Small Law Firms

Over the last few months, people have emailed me questions about my job search and for general advice. Unfortunately, I have not been able to answer all of them for various reasons. But now that my job search is on hold, I wanted to get back to everyone and possibly take this column into a new direction.

After the jump, I will answer some frequently asked questions about my future plans, and my difficulties in finding former solo practitioners willing to share their stories and impart their wisdom. I will also describe my plan to profile law firms that have hired underdog candidates with good results.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Back In The Race: Pit Stop”

Ricky Martin

Ed. note: Please welcome Susan Cartier Liebel of Solo Practice University, who will be writing for Above the Law about issues relevant to solo and small-firm practitioners.

I am a Gleek. I admit it. And never was I more Gleeky than the week Ricky Martin made his guest appearance on the show singing in Spanglish “I’m Sexy and I Know It” back in 2012.

But, that’s not really what this post is about. What it is about is what Ricky Martin’s character, the new Spanish teacher, said to his night students wanting to learn Spanish: “By 2030 more Americans will be speaking Spanish as their first language than English.”

I was a little surprised, too! That’s less than 18 years away from when the show aired in 2012. The stars then took turns singing songs in English and Spanish, the not-so-subtle message being we all need to hone our Spanish language skills….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “If You’re Practicing Law In The 21st Century, You Better ‘Be Sexy and Know’ Spanish”

I had been planning to write an article on whether law firms should upgrade to Windows 8. That is, until last week, when Microsoft previewed their next operating system, Windows 10.

Not only did they announce it, they opened it up for a free preview version download. So I downloaded it, tested it, and took screenshots for you so I can walk through the pros and cons of upgrading to a new operating system.

The Windows 10 preview makes you go through a series of warnings where you acknowledge that you are going to be using an unstable, incomplete, buggy operating system. They do not recommend it for your main computer, just if you have an old laptop lying around.

So, Here’s Windows 10:

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Should You Upgrade To Windows 10 (Or 8)? A Pictorial Walkthrough”


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.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Beyond Biglaw: Effective Deposition Defense (Part 1)”

Keith Lee

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”

— Aristotle

The trick is not holding other people accountable, but holding yourself accountable. It’s the central starting point of developing an appropriate professional mindset — recognizing that you are personally responsible for your actions and results (or lack thereof) delivered to clients.

You must strive to do the best you can in all situations. While it will make a difference in the quality of the work you produce, more importantly it makes a difference in you. Pushing yourself to deliver better work, better services, and better solutions will allow you to self-create new challenges and excitement in your job. It will help keep monotony and routine at bay.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Where Do You Fit On The Ladder?”

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:

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Reinventing The Law Business: Beyond Profits Per Partner — Embracing Volatility”

In past columns I wrote about how a lawyer and a judge use iPads as part of their daily routine. And there’s a good reason that iPads were the first tablets discussed; it’s because the vast majority of lawyers who use tablets in their practices choose the iPad. In fact, according to the 2014 ABA Legal Technology Survey, 84% of lawyers surveyed who used tablets preferred the iPad and only 10% used Android devices, with the remaining 6% using other types of tablets.

The lawyer I’ll be featuring today, Scott Bassett, is one of the 6%. Scott is a solo practitioner who lives in Florida with a practice focused on Michigan appellate work, and his tablet of choice is the Sony Digital Paper model #DPT-S1. Even though his Sony tablet costs more, he prefers it over the iPad because it’s versatile and substantially lighter: “My tablet is so thin and light you barely know you’re carrying it. At $1,100 it costs nearly twice as much as the iPad, but weighs half as much as the iPad Air. Not only is it lighter, it has a full-size, 13.5-inch screen, so documents appear on my screen full size. It’s a better screen than the iPad Kindle app because of the backlit LCD screen. It’s much easier to read and offers better reading comfort when you’ve got hundreds of pages of trial transcripts to read through. And, the batteries last nearly an entire month.”

What are some of its other advantages?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Today’s Tech: An Appellate Attorney And His Sony Tablet”

When you are starting your solo practice from scratch with no connections, clients, or money, expect to make many sacrifices in the beginning. You must sacrifice time with friends and family to attend networking events meeting people — most of them in the same position as you. You will miss many Simpsons episodes to read legal treatises and practice guides. Money will be spent to pay for office overhead — gifts, luxuries, and even student loan payments will have to wait.

Unfortunately, for one solo attorney, her pursuit of professional success required her to sacrifice one of life’s most treasured partnerships: her marriage. Over the weekend, solo practitioner Vivian Sobers announced on her blog that she and her husband of 11 years have decided to separate and eventually divorce.

Vivian’s story is not unusual. Most of us in our line of work have either experienced rocky relationships ourselves or know someone who has. What is unusual is that she is open about it, and I commend her for that. But here’s the question: is her law practice is to blame for the divorce, or did she bring this upon herself by choosing her career over family?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “A Solo Practitioner’s Choice: Marriage v. Career”

Law school can ruin your life if you are not careful. It’s very expensive and the rewards are far from guaranteed. And even if you reap those rewards, you might not like what you’ve become.

But if you do everything wrong, law school becomes just a tragicomic microcosm of poor planning and bad luck.

Forbes has an article up about a woman who is $350,000 in debt and living at the poverty line. Oh, but she has a law degree, and people who haven’t been paying attention are surprised by that…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Every Law School Mistake Ever, From One Lady”

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?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Beyond Biglaw: In-House Talent — Access Denied?”

Page 2 of 87123456...87