Small Law Firms

Bruce Stachenfeld

This is the first of a four-article series focusing on the following matters:

  • First Article – Profits Per Partner: A Good Servant But A Bad Master
  • Second Article – A Profits-Per-Partner Emancipation Plan
  • Third Article – Beyond Profits Per Partner – Embracing Volatility
  • Fourth Article – How to Embrace Volatility as a Law Firm

Those of us running law firms have two sets of clients:

  • Clients – parties that hire us for legal work.
  • Lawyers – parties that do the legal work for the clients.

One without the other is pointless, obviously – they are yin and yang. However, despite this almost symbiotic relationship, most law firms are set up to attract great clients a lot more than they are set up to attract great lawyers. That is how law firms define “marketing.” The other function is called “recruiting.”

Indeed, let me ask you — in your firm, which is cooler: to be on the marketing committee, or to be on the recruiting committee? Which one is more likely to result in success at your firm, including money, power, fame, a big office, etc.?

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I enjoy reading Alex Rich‘s informative, comical, and sometimes depressing posts about life as a contract attorney, particularly in the world of document review. While I have no desire to do full-time doc review, I can see how the “bill and chill” nature of the job could appeal to some people. But in my world, there is more to being a “contract attorney” than being a coder.

Contract work is basically working for an attorney for a limited purpose. It ends once a task is accomplished or after a fixed period of time. Common contract-work projects are court appearances, document review, legal research, drafting or editing motions, and even trial. If you know the right people and have a certain skill set, contract work is not a bad way to make a lawyerly living. But for most new solo practitioners, contract work serves as a supplemental source of income (along with other interesting and strange side gigs) while they try to get their practice up and running.

Today, I want to talk about a rare contract attorney position: a temp-to-hire arrangement where your employer/client hires you on a contract basis and may offer an associate position in the future. I will talk about how to spot such a position and make the most of it. Finally, I will discuss whether it is better to accept the associate position or remain a contract attorney.

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Our law firm does not have a Twitter account. But our consulting and patent monetization firm, Markman Advisors, does (@MarkmanAdvisors) — an active one, where we post about patent litigation-related events that are of interest to our followers. Twitter has become our number-one way of interacting with the investment community that is the target for our consulting and patent monetization services.

Yet our law firm still does not have a Twitter account — and I am not convinced it should. As a practicing litigator, I am reluctant to give out my opinions on legal issues through such a broad-reaching medium. Lawyers on Twitter either need to have a lot of guts, or follow the typical boring Biglaw marketing model. I am not interested too much in either approach.

Our engagement with Twitter is relatively recent, dating to the launch of our law firm and consulting practice. Prior to Twitter, our focus was on demonstrating our patent litigation bona fides via investor-focused articles on websites like Seeking Alpha and Harvest. The goal of that work was to demonstrate that Markman Advisors offered investors, inventors, and companies interested in patent situations a unique analytical approach, informed by our collective experience litigating big-ticket patent cases while at Biglaw firms. We were fortunate to build a following on those platforms, which led to meetings with the type of clients we were interested in representing. In the course of those discussions, we found out that for the investment community — traders, hedge funds, whomever — Twitter is a necessary and powerful communications tool.

Being lawyers, our first reaction was skepticism….

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Deepak Gupta

It’s an intimidation model. It’s a way for corporations to go after their critics and those who fund them.

Deepak Gupta of Gupta Beck PLLC, lead appellate lawyer for Steven Donziger in Donziger’s never-ending litigation with Chevron, commenting on the oil giant’s hardball tactics and aggressive litigation style (for a lengthy Rolling Stone article about the case).

Keith Lee

It’s always interesting to have conversations with clients who have gone through multiple lawyers. Not the sort of clients who have gone lawyer shopping in the past, bouncing around looking for the lowest price, but rather the client who has had a relationship with a lawyer in the past and has decided to break away from that lawyer due to poor performance or bad customer service. Listening to clients who have severed relationships with other lawyers offers a glimpse into what is going on in the mind of clients and what they expect from the legal services they obtain.

One of the most egregious things I’ve heard lately from a client has to do with a couple of bottles of water….

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* Here’s the international sign for “don’t urinate in public.” Glad to know we needed a sign for this. [National Review]

* An illegal hostile work environment is created when coworkers wear confederate flag T-shirts. Because… obviously it is. Professor Volokh thinks this is unconstitutional. Apparently a document drafted by white slaveholders is set up to protect “broadcasting to black people that they should still be enslaved.” Because… obviously it is. [Volokh Conspiracy / Washington Post]

* Police accidentally killed a crew member for the TV show “Cops” while foiling a robbery. That’s just shocking… the fact that “Cops” is still on the air. [Associated Press via ABC News]

* Practice pointer: Get in the practice of writing non-clients to tell them that they are not, in fact, your clients. People can be crazy stalkers out there and you need to protect your practice. [What About Clients]

* Scheduling trials is like playing musical chairs. Except no matter when the music stops someone’s probably getting screwed. [Katz Justice]

* It turns out that lawyers have a hard time talking to clients about overdue bills. As a lawyer who has literally had state troopers impound a client’s private jet, I don’t understand this. But here are the results of a comprehensive survey on the subject. [Lexis-Nexis]

* If you’re interested in how the “justice gap” functions overseas, here’s a report from the Legal Services Board in the UK. [Red Brick Solutions]

* A Texas man, David Barajas, was acquitted of shooting and killing a drunk driver who had killed the man’s sons. The defense argued that Barajas didn’t kill the guy and that there was little physical evidence tying Barajas to the killing. Atlanta news (specifically WSB-TV) may not quite understand the whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing. Pic after the jump [via Twitter]:

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It’s not all doom and gloom in the Back In The Race series. Despite getting ignored or getting countless rejection letters from law firms big and small, I like to have a little fun with my job search. So today, I will share my experience at an interview with a firm I had no interest in working for. Thanks to Above The Law’s generous contributor compensation plan, retirement benefits and student loan repayment assistance program, I can afford to be slightly more picky when it comes to choosing employers.

Over the weekend, a recruiter asked if I would be interested in meeting with a local solo practitioner who seeks to hire an associate. After learning a little bit about her and her area of practice, I knew it wasn’t going to work between us. But I decided to go to this interview anyway just so I could play the role of the demanding, entitled special snowflake and see her reaction.

So let’s find out who the lucky solo is and see how it all went…

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Fictional depictions of high-powered executives and lawyers feature personal assistants with job portfolios more akin to “slave child” than “professional.” Sometimes these assistants are associates, but usually they’re in some other job — like legal secretaries, or whatever Waylon Smithers does. These jobs don’t usually exist in real life. Sure, a partner might ask a paralegal or secretary for a cup of coffee, but they aren’t really so full of themselves as to expect some low-wage employee to peel grapes and fan palm leaves.

Unless you’re this guy, of course. This guy is a partner who wants an employee to “reduce my stress level” by handling every task that he feels is beneath his lofty stature. Behold someone so out of touch with basic decency….

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The week before Labor Day is one of my favorite weeks of the year. Has been for a long time. Even during my decade-plus in Biglaw, a fact that may be shocking to those who believe that the Biglaw experience ranges from the tolerable to the miserable — and never enjoyable. But even for those who feel trapped in the ravenous clutches of the insatiable Biglaw billable hours beast, the end of August almost always offers a welcome, if brief, respite. Because late August is prime Biglaw vacation season, and offices nationwide are running on a skeleton staff.

Partners, and even some associates, are trying to squeeze in some family time before the start of school. The younger set is off for a final round of beach weekends, or just enjoying lazy days in the office, relishing the chance to kick out at a normal hour. With time to hit the gym, before a meal in a real restaurant, rather than a Seamless-delivered dinner in a takeout tray. During my Biglaw years, the end of August meant the last few days of commuting down to the Jersey Shore by ferry from Manhattan, with twilight views of the Statue of Liberty and the Verrazano Bridge. Moments of serenity, even in a city of perpetual motion.

The end of summer can be wonderful, and the temptation to milk the most relaxation out of the waning days of the season great. But it would be a mistake to view this period as only one of enjoyment….

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Keith Lee

Because I’m a glutton for punishment (I’m writing for ATL aren’t I?), every now and then I will trawl through SSRN to see if there is anything worthwhile to read. Usually there isn’t. Mostly it’s stuff like Harry Potter and the Law or whatever. It can be hard finding substantive, interesting material to read among the cruft. The other problem is that the authors are publishing articles in law reviews — which no one reads. It’s far better to submit an article to a blog (or set up your own), if you really want to reach people. I gather the point is not to be read, but instead to have an extra line on your résumé. But I digress.

I stumbled across an older (2003) article on the perceptions of various members of the profession on the writing skills of new lawyers entitled How Judges, Practitioners  and Legal Writing Teachers Assess the Writing Skills of New Law Graduates: A Comparative Study, by Susan Hanley Kosse and David T. Ritchie.

It is a rather broad study covering a number of issues that arise from the quality of legal writing among new lawyers. In particular how established members of the profession view the writing skills of new lawyers. So how did they fare?

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