Small Law Firms

So yeah, Dewey is history. Everyone and his mother has written about what the bankruptcy of the “storied” law firm means. According to Kent Zimmermann, a legal consultant at the Zeughauser Group, Dewey could represent one of the first dominos. “Dewey’s failure is rocking the industry in the sense that most firms are saying to themselves, if Dewey could go down, could we?”

And for most firms, the answer is yes. After all, Dewey cited the economic downturn and massive partner compensation arrangements as the root causes for the firm’s collapse. Those causes are common to many large firms. Surely we have all seen the images of those sweet pads in Lawyerly Lairs. Reading those tea leaves, it is clear that Armageddon is a comin’ (or a stayin’, if you consider the other Biglaw firms that have folded).

Dewey’s fate is sad. Well, at least for Dewey and for other large firms. It might be good news for others, however. And, no I do not mean the other Biglaw firms who got to score them some Dewey rainmakers….

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If you’re trying to build a word-of-mouth-based referral practice (is anyone doing that anymore?), you may be frustrated with two things about some of your referral sources: they don’t appear to know what it is you do, and they don’t make a real effort to get you the case/client.

Let’s talk about the bad referrals first.

We’ve all been there. The call comes in, the client was referred by a familiar name, and he wants to hire you to do something you don’t do or don’t want to do. Maybe you’re a divorce lawyer but don’t want to handle child custody modifications, or you’re a commercial litigator who has said many times that you don’t do collections work.

If you’re getting the wrong referrals, it’s your fault…

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Ed. note: Please welcome Eric Turkewitz, a new small law firm columnist at Above the Law. His bio appears after the jump.

For the new ATL readers, let me introduce myself here in my first column. OK, screw that, I know you don’t really give a damn about me, so let’s jump to the meat and potatoes…

You all know that Dewey & LeBoeuf, filing for bankruptcy liquidation yesterday, is the largest law firm ever to go bust. And that means a ton of people are now out of work, either scrambling to hitch their wagons to new firms or looking to start their own practices.

Because having your own firm is, to many, the Holy Grail of a law practice. Sure, some like the consistent fat paycheck, but the ranks of lawyers are filled with Type-A personalities who fantasize about practicing law the way they want to do it, not the way some other Type-A knucklehead has been telling them to do it.

There are only about a gazillion things to think about: office space, support staff, technology, and money to keep you going, to name a few. But today’s topic will be self-promotion and social media. And I don’t mean this in a good way, as in here’s how to go out and be famous on Twitter. No, no, a thousand times no. Instead I’d like to warn you about them, and help you save your soul.

You’re welcome. Pull up a chair, and let’s review some of the more dreadful attorney marketing over the years. We’ll start in the toilet….

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Adam “Bulletproof” Reposa is an attorney in Austin, Texas. Editor emeritus Kashmir Hill covered his, how shall we say, unorthodox activities quite a bit a few years ago.

Most notably, he was held in contempt for making a “simulated masturbatory gesture” at a judge with whom he disagreed.

There is a new video out featuring Reposa. It’s hilarious. The video is quite subtle. But I think the main message is if you stand in his way in court, he will run you over with his pickup truck….

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Last month, we solicited law school success stories from you, our readers. We’re often quite critical of law schools around these parts. So, to even out the scales a bit, we’re going to be running a series of happy stories, focused on graduates who are glad they went to law school.

We’ve tried to organize the success stories under a few broad themes, to lend some structure to the discussion. Some of the themes exist in tension with each other, and not all themes will apply to all readers. By the time the series is done, however, we hope that the stories will collectively shed some light on the question of whether one should go to law school.

Let’s launch into our first collection of law school success stories. They could be grouped under the theme of “go cheap, or go home”….

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Tom Wallerstein

As readers of this site’s “Lawyer of the Day” posts everyone knows, lawyers and their clients can be guilty of all kinds of outrageous behavior. Litigation especially, with its inherently adversarial nature, seems to bring out the worst in people.

Bad behavior by lawyers comes in many forms. To non-lawyers, most if not all lawyers are jerks or worse. All bad behavior by lawyers is lumped together. But there are important differences.

A lot of bad behavior should be avoided simply because it is counter-productive. For example, an attorney may refuse to offer voluntary extensions of time to respond to discovery, or to a complaint. Aside from violating a principle of professional courtesy, that behavior also is ultimately self-destructive. In litigation, what comes around goes around, and granting extensions of time that will not prejudice your client is a prudent way to ensure later modest courtesies for yourself when needed.

Declining modest extensions to respond to discovery requests is especially unwise, as the responding party can always just serve objections, with the intention of serving substantive responses before a motion to compel can be filed. Because there is no instantaneous remedy for a failure to serve substantive responses, you often have little to gain by refusing a request for a modest extension of time.

Continue reading to find out when bad behavior crosses the line….

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It is hardly shocking that a woman who chooses to operate under a pseudonym is an introvert. If left to my own devices, I would stay at home watching television and looking out my window. I am talking Boo Radley here.

Unfortunately, momma’s got to earn the money to pay the cable bill, so I must force myself out into the world. Oh, and momma needs a new job, so I have to do the single most painful thing a girl like me must do. No, not hook. I must… NETWORK.

In the past, when attending networking events, I would bring a friend, get drunk on cheap chardonnay, and leave without speaking to anyone new. That is apparently the wrong way to network. So, recently, I decided to really put myself out there: I have started attending networking events (well, at least one networking event) alone. I got there late, hung alone in the corner awkwardly playing with my phone, drank cheap chardonnay, and left without speaking to anyone new. Alas, it was time for me to ask for help…

Luckily for me, I did not have to search far for advice on networking. There are thousands of listicles about how to network. Most of them were useless (e.g., they suggested foregoing chardonnay), and most were geared towards people who did not consider “fear of public speaking” as a scarier thing than death. (Yes, I am one of those people.) Thanks to my LinkedIn news suggestions, I discovered a subset of networking articles geared towards introverts. The advice was earth-shattering….

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It’s not part of a legal strategy or way to churn the file; it’s an attorney-initiated discussion about the client smack in the middle of the case.

What usually happens is that the attorney is retained, legal work begins, the client is updated as to the status of the case/matter, asked to weigh in occasionally on strategy, and reminded about the pending bill. We see this as part of the job, but how do the clients perceive the representation?

At some point in the representation, the best chance you have to hear what the client is really thinking is when they are not happy. You’ll get that anxious phone call, that question that is really a criticism, and it is during those times that you focus on trying to make the client happy.

What if you were proactive?

What if you scheduled a non-billable meeting with the client, outside your office, for the sole purpose of allowing the client to voice their overall concerns after you’ve been representing them for a while?

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On Friday evening, we briefly mentioned the tragic news of a bicyclist getting struck and killed in an apparent hit-and-run incident. An attorney from the San Francisco Bay Area was arrested, accused of being the responsible (or not-so-responsible) driver.

This is the kind of story that gives attorneys in general a bad reputation. It’s got everything: possible deceitfulness, apparent lack of ethics, and a fancy car. The vehicle in question wasn’t some junky scraper, but a brand-new Mercedes.

You can’t make this stuff up — unless you want to be accused of ripping off Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities (affiliate link)…

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* When Dewey tell the world that we’re dead, but not yet buried? The firm filed a notice with the New York State Department of Labor listing its closing date as yesterday. And what’s their reason for doing so? “Economic.” [Am Law Daily (sub. req.)]

* Dewey have anyone left in the Office of the Chairman? Apparently not: Charles Landgraf has moved on to greener pastures. There is no longer a captain at the wheel of the S.S. Dewey. [The Hill]

* “The continuing loss of revenue-generating partners and Dewey’s debt load has culminated in the imminent demise of Dewey.” Damn, the PBGC certainly doesn’t mince words. Meet the firm’s latest lawsuit. [Reuters]

* A judge reinstated Le-Nature’s $500M case against K&L Gates for failure to detect fraud. Hope the firm has a half-billion lying around — they haven’t been doing too well with the whole honesty thing lately. [Businessweek]

* You stay classy, DSK! Your aggravated pimp hand is strong! Dominique Strauss-Kahn filed a $1M countersuit against Nafissatou Diallo because she “ruined his life, personally and professionally.” [Wall Street Journal]

* Conspiring to price fix? There’s an app for that! A federal judge denied Apple’s and several book publishers’ motions to dismiss a consumer class-action lawsuit about e-book pricing. [Media Decoder / New York Times]

* Like FernGully in reverse? A judge refused to dismiss Chevron’s racketeering and fraud lawsuit against New York attorney Steven Donziger for his work done in Ecuador. [New York Law Journal]

* Thomas Jefferson Law will be the site of the next solo incubator. This is a great way to keep your grads from suing you (not to mention a great way to increase your employed-at-nine-months rate). [National Law Journal]

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