Small Law Firm Open Threads

Ed. Note: Our post on harsh rejection letters generated a lot of talk among people interested in applying to Small Law jobs. Donna Gerson — the author of Choosing Small, Choosing Smart — provided us with a list of tips that former-Biglaw associates should consider when applying to smaller firms.

I spend an enormous amount of time interviewing small firm practitioners throughout the U.S. and speaking to law students about the expectations small firm lawyers have when it comes to interviewing, hiring, and promotion.

The feedback from SOLOSEZ, the ABA’s solo and small firm mailing list, was on point. Take the time to write to an actual person at the firm and never use a “To Whom It May Concern” salutation. Mass mailings are the kiss of death and lawyers know when they’re getting a mail-merge monstrosity. Know what practice areas the firm engages in and write a cover letter that addresses one’s interest in those practice areas. An applicant’s cover letter ought to connect the dots for an employer and not simply recite one’s résumé. And – of course – job-seekers need to clean up their Internet presence. I cannot even begin to tell you some of the atrocious (and hilarious) stories I’ve heard over the years from legal employers about Facebook.

So what should former-Biglaw associates keep in mind when applying to Small Law?

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Given the recession, a lot of lawyers shut out of Biglaw are trying to get jobs with small firms. The problem is, the skills required to get one of those jobs are not obvious to your average recent law school graduate.

Of course, small and solo practitioners want to help young lawyers better themselves! In the spirit of helping, here’s what one small practitioner sent to the ABA’s solo and small firm mailing list, SOLOSEZ:

I just received a resume and cover letter from a young attorney seeking employment in my firm. I honestly don’t notice things like spelling errors because I can’t spell myself, but I’m sure the letter and resume were flawless technically. I didn’t even read it that closely because the cover letter was addressed “Dear Sir or Madam:”

Here’s my response to the job seeker. Yes, I addressed it to him personally, but I’ll keep that private for his sake.

Undoubtedly, this response will be so helpful. Let’s take a look at this public service announcement…

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bankruptcy boutique.jpgTime to resume our series of open threads covering small (or smaller) law firms, focused on different practice areas. We’ve already written about small law firms in general, insurance law, personal injury law, trusts and estates, immigration, real estate, intellectual property, ERISA / employee benefits, and family law / divorce law. Some of these threads are still active (or could be resuscitated), so do check in on them.
Today we turn to the booming field of BANKRUPTCY. This practice area might seem depressing, given its focus on financial distress, but some people find it quite sexy.
A long time ago, the field was generally shunned by large firms, so that most firms doing bankruptcy were on the smaller side. But Biglaw embraced bankruptcy years ago, and it’s probably glad it did. The bankruptcy departments of large law firms are super-busy these days, providing a partial hedge to the weakness on the transactional side.
What about bankruptcy boutiques — how are they doing? Some material to kick off the discussion, after the jump.

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Star Wars divorce card front.jpgLet’s return to our series of open threads on small law firms in different practice areas. We’ve covered seven fields so far; check them out here.
The latest topic to tackle: FAMILY LAW. This is the area of law that our somewhat cantankerous, dearly departed grandmother urged us to enter. She was firmly convinced that when a couple splits up, the divorce lawyers end up with all the couple’s money.
But not everyone is a fan of this practice area. Dahlia Lithwick, Slate’s fabulous and funny Supreme Court correspondent, previously practiced family law at a small firm in Reno, Nevada. It seems that she found divorce law depressing rather than enriching.
Here’s what Lithwick said during a talk at UVA Law School last year, when we asked what led her to move from practicing law to writing about it:

“One thing that really helps is doing doing divorce law.” After representing clients in their “bickering over the pots and pans,” she said, everything else starts to look much more attractive.

That seems like a rather negative take on the field, doesn’t it? In fairness to family law, it has its upsides.
Find out the advantages of this field — and check out the inside of this greeting card (above right), courtesy of the folks at Pig Spigot — after the jump.

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erisa lawyers.jpegLet’s push forward with our series of open threads on small law firms in different practice areas. To see what we’ve covered so far, click here and scroll down.
Today’s topic: ERISA LAW. For those of you who aren’t familiar with ERISA, we’ll quote a prior post of ours:

For all of you non-lawyers — or for those of you who sat in the back row in law school — ERISA stands for the “Employee Retirement Income Security Act.” It’s the federal law, originally passed in 1974 and subsequently amended, that governs the administration of pension and employee benefit plans. So yes, it’s pension law.

This area of law may not sound sexy, but it has some sexy practitioners. Back in 2006, we held an ERISA lawyer hotties contest. Feel free to check out the male nominees, the female nominees, and the ultimate winners.
More substantive thoughts on ERISA practice, after the jump.

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Back to our series of open threads covering small (or smaller) law firms, focused on different practice areas. We’ve already written about small law firms in general, insurance law, personal injury law, trusts and estates, immigration, and real estate. Some of those discussions are still active, so feel free to look back at them.

Today we turn our attention to what’s widely viewed as a hot field: INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. The reader who requested IP law as a subject offered an overview of the field:

IP is a very variable, different, and often forgotten practice of law that is mostly inhabited by engineers and science geeks who have no problems wearing Cosby sweaters and bad shoes around their workplaces.

More serious reflections, plus some questions, after the jump.

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CBS Building 1 Black Rock Blackrock Wachtell Lipton WLRK Orrick.jpgIf you’re looking for options beyond Biglaw, we’re here to help. We continue our series of open threads covering small law firms focused on different practice areas. To see the fields we’ve covered so far, click here and scroll down.
We’ve received encouraging feedback from readers — and suggestions. Like this one:

I really like the small firm series you’re running, and I’m hoping you can make the next post about real estate law. I know there are lots of high-end boutiques specializing in commercial real estate out there, and I’m curious about what kind of hours they work and what kind of money the junior to midlevel associates make.

My current practice area involves long and very unpredictable hours, but I’m pretty junior, so I can still switch into another area. Real estate is at the top of my “escape options” list because I’ve heard that, even at larger firms, real estate involves less stress and fewer hours than litigation or corporate.

Is this true? Is real estate really free of “fire drills”?

Readers, can you provide information for our correspondent? If you can, please contribute to this open thread about REAL ESTATE LAW.
Some half-baked musings to start the conversation, after the jump.

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will last will testament trusts estates.jpgWe continue our series of open threads about small law firms focused on different areas of practice. In light of the turmoil being experienced by Biglaw, as well as the many laid-off lawyers and job-hunting law students looking for other opportunities, now is an excellent time to look beyond large law firms.
Today we turn our attention to TRUSTS AND ESTATES. What is it like to work at a small (or at least non-big) firm focused on T&E work? What are your hours like? Your compensation? What do you like the most — and the least — about your job?
Please discuss, in the comments.
Speaking of trusts and estates, at the recent Lavender Law conference we attended a workshop on advanced estate planning. The panelists offered advice that might be helpful to people who practice in, or aspire to practice in, trusts and estates.
Read about it, after the jump.

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(Plus another Lavender Law panel write-up.)”

ambulance chasing ambulance chaser.jpgToday we resume our series of open threads about small law firms focused on different areas of practice. For background on the series, see this post.
We’ve received lots of positive feedback on the series. Here are some representatives comments from the last thread, on insurance law:

54 – This is a GREAT GREAT GREAT thread – please do more. I’d be interested in seeing threads on immigration practice, real estate practice, prosecution and public defense (state/municipal, not federal – reality check here – the DOJ is not an option for 99% of attorneys).

86 – [K]eep open threads on small law like this coming! They’re informative for everyone, whether or not they are interested or not in working in such an area.

94 – This is a good thread. (I can’t believe it.) Thanks to the veterans who are providing substantive info and advice.

Our latest practice area for focus: PERSONAL INJURY LAW.
If this subject interests you, read more after the jump.

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insurance defense insurance coverage litigation law.jpgThe comments on last month’s post about small law firms were uncommonly good. Readers shared valuable insights and information about life beyond Biglaw, including discussion of the pluses and minuses of working at a small — or smaller (size is relative) — law firm.
One commenter — after pointing out that non-Biglaw firms come in many shapes and sizes, making it hard to generalize — had this excellent suggestion:

You know what would be really helpful? A variety of open threads on different types of small firms. Do one or two threads a day getting people’s input on salaries in boutique regulatory firms, other types of transactional, plaintiffs firms, insurance defense, class action boutiques, whatever.

As someone that’s focusing my search primarily on small firms, it’s been really difficult trying to get a sense of what my salary demands should be. Short of asking my friends how much they make, the information really doesn’t exist in any useful form. A variety of open threads focusing on specific practice areas and what people can expect for salaries and benefits would probably be really beneficial to many readers.

Salary demands? How about just hoping that you have a salary?
But we like this idea for an occasional series of open threads, focusing on small firms with different specialties. Today’s topic: firms that practice INSURANCE LAW.
If this interests you, read more after the jump.

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