Small Law Firms

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?

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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?

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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…

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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?

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I’m not gonna lie, I think this is the best solo practitioner YouTube ad ever. The other ones, the ones strange or ridiculous enough to make this site or be aired during the Super Bowl, don’t impress me. They’re fun, sure. But they smell of slightly unhinged people desperate to get attention. I wouldn’t hire those people.

I would hire the Law Hawk. The Law Hawk looks hardworking. The Law Hawk looks tenacious. The Law Hawk doesn’t take himself too seriously, he takes your rights too seriously! The Law Hawk is good-looking, and I don’t generally think white people are good looking….

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Keith Lee

There is an old story that tells the tale of three stonemasons. A stranger walks up and asks the stonemasons what they are doing. The first stonemason pauses and says, “I’m making a living.” The second stonemason replies, “I am making the best stone work in the country.” The third stonemason stands up with a distant look in his eyes and says, “I am making a cathedral.”

The first stonemason is a worker bee. He is there to collect a paycheck, nothing more. It is unlikely he will ever find success without someone else’s direction — if he ever finds it at all. A low-level associate. Or doc reviewer. A emp worker. The second stonemason is a craftsman for sure, but lacking in the big picture of what he is doing. An associate. Perhaps a partner someday. The third stonemason is the man who understands the ultimate goal of what their enterprise is all about. He is the senior partner. The one who has clients. One with the will and drive to start his own firm….

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Do you recognize this rapper?

Given the glut of lawyers and law firms to choose from out there, the way their services are advertised grows more and more important each day. Sure, prospective clients are looking for skilled representation, but standing in front of a wall of legal books in a low-budget commercial can only do so much to prove your intelligence. Sometimes, clients are looking for that extra something, that je ne sais quoi that even they don’t know they want until they see it on their television screens at home.

Say, for example, that you happen to know a rapper so famous that he’s one of the highest-paid hip-hop entertainers on Earth. You’d definitely want that guy to appear in your commercials, wouldn’t you?

That’s exactly what one small law firm did. Which rapper is helping them make it rain?

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An artist’s visualization of the recent Clio Cloud Conference.

Big used to matter in companies providing legal support, research, and services solutions to law firms.

Lots of money, broad distribution networks, seasoned executives, big conference booths, and fancy branding collateral.

Big was the safe choice. You didn’t get fired for buying from the big company from which every other law firm was buying.

No longer. Small startups are becoming the providers of choice for law firms across the country — and the world.

First, larger legal companies are struggling. They are laying off people. They’re have trouble bringing innovation to the market. Will they be around for the long haul?

Second, law firms like small, for a lot of reasons:

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Over the last two weeks, I gave a lot of thought to the email that I sent to Stephanie. Even though I do not regret telling her that I am looking for full-time work, I thought that I may have told her too much about my personal situation, which might have made her feel awkward. I planned to call her and let her know that things are fine and I was just having one of those days. But before I got the chance, Stephanie called me. She wanted me to schedule a time when I can meet with her and one of her partners to discuss working full-time at her firm.

There are some things you should know about Stephanie and why I hold her in such high regard. She is the managing partner of a highly respected boutique specialty firm. She is charismatic and her knowledge of the law is encyclopedic. Some of the attorneys at her firm have moved on to Biglaw, judicial clerkships, and other prestigious positions. All of her firm’s partners and associates have solid academic and professional backgrounds.

And now she is giving me a chance to work for her.

Could this be the opportunity I have been waiting for? After the jump, I will talk about what I will be doing at Stephanie’s firm and whether this could be the end of the race. Also, read onwards for information about a special federal clerkship opportunity…

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On September 4, Bill Simmons wrote a column for Grantland regarding the National Football League, titled “The League That Never Sleeps.” Since then, the NFL has remained in the headlines on a daily basis, scarred by a near-constant stream of negative news concerning off-field incidents involving current players. Apart from the escalation of unseemly episodes we have seen recently, the NFL is also struggling with potentially existence-threatening legal issues relating to the harm suffered by players due to the inherent violence of the sport. At the same time, the NFL remains the biggest show (especially from a TV ratings standpoint) in town, and the league has never been more profitable.

Do I need to spell out the parallels with Biglaw? Record profitability, coupled with record instability. It is a wonder that we don’t see Biglaw behemoths sponsoring the halftime clash between two local Pee-Wee teams at NFL stadiums….

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