Small Law Firms

Tom Wallerstein

A friend of mine — now a successful partner — told me a story about when he was a junior associate at a well-known Biglaw firm. Phil used to work for a superstar partner who was incredibly well respected by his colleagues and clients, but somewhat feared by junior associates. Phil told me about the time when he had to confess to the partner that he had inadvertently produced to their adversary a small number of documents that had been tagged as “non-responsive”; i.e., documents that did not need to be produced because the adversary had not requested them.

Phil expected yelling and screaming, profanity, maybe a fist pounding on the table. But instead, the partner was silent. His face showed disappointment, not anger. He slowly shook his head side to side several times, muttering to himself, seemingly unable to comprehend why fate should be so cruel as to condemn him to work with such incompetents. He rubbed at his face and eyes, first with one hand, and then the other, as if he hoped to awaken himself from a stubborn bad dream.

After several moments, he sighed loudly, and looked at Phil with seeming pity. He sighed again, to make sure my friend fully comprehended the weight of despair that he was bearing, and then once more, for good measure. Finally, the partner said simply, “We’ll have to call the carrier.”

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In the crazy world of cyberspace, personal injury lawyers are a dime a dozen. By now, we’ve gotten used to their crazy antics and low-budget commercials.

But not all personal injury firms are created equal. For the Law Firm of Gary, Williams, Lewis, and Watson, P.I., “low-budget” is a concept that just doesn’t exist. To the contrary, the firm wants to make it clear just how baller the life of a private injury attorney can be.

Dubbing himself “The Giant Killer,” the firm’s larger-than-life head partner, Willie E. Gary, never misses an opportunity to make his wealth and success known. Touting hundred-million-dollar verdicts and rubbing elbows with celebrities, Gary is on a one-man mission to prove that chasing ambulances is much easier when you’re driving a Bentley….

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The next ‘Top Associate’?

If you were searching for employment and you saw an ad proposing that you audition for the job — much like you would if you were a contestant on Top Chef, Project Runway, or ATL Idol — would you still apply? What if the firm was offering $20 per hour for each assignment completed during the audition process?

Those are the questions that we’ve been tasked with today by many of our loyal readers who emailed us about a Craigslist job out in California. This is what the legal job market has come to….

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Just because you may be a highly successful, incredibly busy attorney doesn’t mean you can’t pursue badass hobbies on the side. Sketch comedy, climbing mountains — sorry, golf doesn’t count — or martial arts fighting.

We interviewed the name partner at a major East Coast plaintiffs’ firm about his devoted jiu jitsu training, his background as a young boxer, and his successful fight competition last month.

Before we jump in the ring, and learn more about the attorney and his fun, unusual hobby, take a quick bow…

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Not so fast, Canellas…

* Yeah, about that huge bonus we were going to pay our ex-finance director — we realized how silly that was, so we’re not going to do that. Aww, don’t worry, Dewey & LeBoeuf, you’ll have plenty of other chances to look absurd. [Am Law Daily]

* Not only is Samsung suing Apple for patent infringement, but the company is also trying to get a do over by getting Judge Lucy Koh to throw out the original billion-dollar verdict over jury foreman Velvin Hogan’s alleged misconduct. [Bloomberg]

* “Small deals are easier to swallow, easier to integrate.” Regional firms like Carlton Fields and Adams and Reese are gobbling up smaller firms in what seems to be the latest trend in law firm merger mania activity. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* Douglas Arntsen, the former Crowell & Moring associate who had to be extradited from Hong Kong after embezzling $10.7M from clients, pleaded guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence. [New York Law Journal]

* It’s tough to come up with appropriate whistleblower jokes given the background here. We’ll play it straight: Mike McQueary filed a defamation suit against Penn State, and he’s seeking $4M in damages. [ABC News]

* Jose Godinez-Samperio, an undocumented immigrant, is fighting for the ability to practice law in Florida, but the members of the state Supreme Court are literally trying to make it into a “federal case.” [Washington Post]

Landing a corporate client is usually a happy time for any law firm, big or small. Now, the representation may not be a day in the park — after all, there are many, many ways for general counsel to drive outside counsel absolutely nuts. But even so, this kind of a client is another notch in your firm’s belt, no matter how difficult the relationship. Especially given today’s economy, this is a client that your firm will want to keep for as long as possible.

But regardless of everyone’s efforts, your firm just couldn’t seem to get it right. Your firm’s lawyers tried to placate the legal department’s every whim, to apparently no avail. Perhaps the proposed budget was a little too high. Perhaps an attorney from your firm was just a bit too snippy with in-house counsel. Whatever the case may have been, your firm got fired.

Why does this keep happening, and how can you make it stop?

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As lawyers, we often look past obvious signals when we’re about to get a new client. The client comes in, decides to hire “me” (yes, me!), and pays. What could be bad?

That the client showed up an hour late with no excuse or apology, or spent the hour with you talking about how his friend’s case worked out, or the opinion of his cousin who is a lawyer in another state is of no matter. We have a new client, a new check, and that’s all that we need.

I believe in the philosophy that sometimes the best client is the one you turn down. I’ll end a meeting after 10 minutes because the client’s expectations are only met through unethical behavior or by going to see the wizard. Or after meeting with the client, I’ll decline representation because even though the client can pay, I believe I’m not a good fit in terms of the client’s needs as far as time outside of the representation. Of course, then there’s the high fee you quote a client you just don’t want to represent who says (oops) “OK.”

Then there’s the client where everything seems great, until the day after you are retained….

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Tom Wallerstein

Is law school worth the tuition? Should I take out loans to go to a highly-ranked school, or accept a scholarship to a lower-ranked school? These are the burning questions that this website loves to pose.

I have opinions on these subjects like everyone else, but honestly, what do I know? The legal market was very different when I went to law school.

I attended The University of Pennsylvania Law School from 1996 through 1999.  I loved my classes, my professors and my friends. Sure, law school was stressful, but, as I frequently quipped, it was better than work.

I have distinct memories of on-campus recruiting. OCR seemed stressful at the time, but it can hardly be compared to the stress that students now face In This Economy. In the late 1990s, attending a T-14 school virtually guaranteed you a Biglaw job, if that’s what you wanted.

And we did. All but a handful of my classmates aspired to work in Biglaw, at least to start our careers….

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Back in May, we brought you news about a full-time job opportunity that appeared on Boston College Law School’s Symplicity page. Everyone expressed outrage over the position advertised, simply because of its annual salary of $10,000. If you do the math, that works out to about $4.81 per hour, which is well below minimum wage. But apparently our economy is such that at least 32 people applied for the job — a job that didn’t even yield a living wage.

Keeping that tableau in mind, tipsters recently brought our attention to yet another low-paying job. This one is above minimum wage. But even jobs that will get you off of a ramen noodle budget just aren’t good enough these days….

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For years, personal injury law advertising and violent imagery have gone hand in hand. Only in this field would we get a video of an unhinged attorney smashing a pickup truck into a parked car and call it an advertisement. The more they can yell or blow things up, it seems, the better.

Keeping with the tradition of aggression, we have not one, not two, but three different personal injury lawyers who have branded themselves “The Hammer.” But in the dog-eat-dog world of personal injury law, there can only be room for one Hammer. So who should win the rights to the title?

Should it be Lowell “The Hammer” Stanley from Virginia, who compares personal injury law to making sausage? Or Jim “The Hammer” Shapiro, the personal injury attorney possibly from New York (or Canada or Florida), who claims he loves to play rough? Or our entry from down South, Jim “The Texas Hammer” Adler, who is supposedly meaner than a junkyard dog?

Which Hammer should reign supreme? Let’s review the evidence….

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