Small Law Firms

Tom Wallerstein

There comes a time in all associates’ careers when they stop and do the math. They think about their salary, bonus, and benefits. They think about their billable hours. They multiply their billable hours by their billable rate and suddenly they think, hey, WAITAMINUTE. My firm makes three four five times what it pays me!

Like any other salaried employee, the more hours an associate works, the less they make per hour, bonuses notwithstanding. They might not mind so much if they’re also bucking for promotion, i.e., up for partner. Regardless, at some point, every associate thinks, “if only I were paid as much per hour as I bill per hour . . . .”

That moment for me was the epiphany that ultimately led to helping form my own firm. But since that time, I’ve also been able to see the other side of the fence, so to speak. There are a lot of reasons — some obvious, and some less so — why the math isn’t quite as simple as it seems….

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* Obamacare’s individual mandate may be in jeopardy, and it’s all because of that stupid broccoli debate. No, Scalia, as delicious as it is, not everyone would have to buy broccoli. [New York Times]

* Biglaw firms aren’t going away, but thanks to the recent onslaught of partner defections to small law firms, their high hourly rates might soon be going the way of the dodo. [Corporate Counsel]

* The “good” news: Northwestern Law will be limiting its tuition hike to the rate of inflation. The bad news: next year, it will cost $53,168 to attend. I officially don’t want to live on this planet anymore. [National Law Journal]

* A Littler Mendelson partner is recovering from a stabbing that occurred during a home invasion. On the bright side, at least he’s not a partner at Dewey — that’s a fate worse than being stabbed these days. [Am Law Daily]

* Law school applicants are dropping like flies, but some law schools were able to attract record numbers of students. UVA Law must have some real expertise in recruiting collar poppers. [The Short List / U.S. News]

* “I have a suggestion for you; next time, keep your [expletive] legs closed.” O Canada, that’s the basis of one crazy class action suit, eh? Dudley Do-Right would never treat a female Mountie like that. [Globe and Mail]

There is usually little justification for the decisions I make in life. Consequently, I get really excited when I find studies that support my poor choices. For example, did you hear that chocolate makes you skinnier? A new study found that “people who eat chocolate frequently have lower body mass indexes than those who eat it less often.” There was something mentioned about “moderation,” but that minor detail seems trivial. The important takeaway is that I have license to eat as many Cadbury Eggs as I want, and I will lose weight.

Continuing in that vein, I found an article that confirms my long-held views on how to succeed as a small-firm lawyer: take frequent breaks, go on vacation, nap, and wear sweatpants. Don’t believe me? Check this out….

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When we last checked in with the support staff at the law firm of Elizabeth R. Wellborn P.A., we discovered that more than a dozen of them had been fired because they wore orange shirts to work. Their excuse: they all wore orange on payday so they’d look like a group when they met for happy hour. Management didn’t buy it — they thought that members of the support staff were protesting something, and fired them on the spot.

As one commenter on our last post on this issue intelligently noted, “CHECK YOU PERCEIVED CONCERTED ACTIVITY.” One week later, it’s been revealed that some of the support staff may have been protesting after all. Almost half of them have lawyered up. But what, exactly, were they protesting?

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Lawyer fight!

When a person mentions high-powered asbestos litigation, most of the time you would assume that means lawsuits seeking damages for health problems caused by the infamous chemical.

Not this time. Right now, there is a war emerging between attorneys at one of the most prominent asbestos litigation law firms.

Last week, a former attorney at a major asbestos plaintiff’s firm sued his former colleagues. Joseph C. Maher II made some pretty intense allegations of lawyerly espionage that one blogger called a combination of the “lawyering skullduggery of The Firm with the medical malpractice aspects of The King of Torts.”

What is going on here? Is this the real deal, or just a disgruntled, laid-off lawyer?

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When you went to law school or started thinking about starting your own practice, did you have dreams of waking up in the morning, walking down the hall to another room in your house and sitting down to do legal work? Did you hope to bounce ideas off of the dog, or plan strategy watching Matlock re-runs at 2 p.m.?
 
I’m sorry, I just don’t get this “Do I need an office?” back and forth, in which my “future of law” friends are quick to say “You don’t need an office.”
 
No, you don’t need an office. They’re right. You also don’t need to wear clothes that make you look respectable. You don’t even have to have any idea what you’re doing. You can work from your computer in your dining room, in shorts, and find answers (some which are correct) to questions like “how to draft a will,” on the internet. Some client, somewhere, will hire you. Maybe a few.
 
As you build your practice, you can do everything small, cheap, and sloppy. Forget about being downtown or by the courthouse. Forget about having to dress like you want to be hired for important legal work. Forget about building anything of significance. Just stay home and be happy that you’re saving money every month on an office. Way to go. Hopefully you won’t take advice from business owners who know building a business takes investment….

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Tom Wallerstein

Law bloggers, including me, spend a lot of time talking about the economics of being a lawyer. This site voraciously covers news about salaries and bonuses, and often opines about the financial value of a law degree. I, too, often write about some particular financial aspect of managing a litigation boutique.

But as I have told countless prospective and current law students, if you’re in it for the money, you’re in the wrong profession. And this was true even in the glory days when six-figure bonuses were routine, and when students were only half joking when they called for starting salaries of $190,000 per year.

Virtually no amount of money can justify tolerating everything it means to be an attorney. Ask someone like Will Meyerhofer. The billable hours, the deadlines, and the overall stress makes many attorneys question why they ever went to law school in the first place. Dear 16 year old me…

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Today is the first day of spring. The morning news shows were focused on all the many ways we should shed our winter selves and prepare for spring. The most common story was, of course, spring cleaning. And, as ForbesWoman reminded us, this applies equally to your résumé as it does your closet. As Krista Canfield, a senior manager of corporate communications at LinkedIn, explained, “[w]hether you’re on the job-hunt or not, Spring is an excellent time to evaluate your long- and short-term goals and make sure they’re reflected in your career profiles.”

The comparison between “spring cleaning” your home and your résumé is even more apt for one reason: both activities suck. Indeed, when I ask my unhappy lawyer friends why they do not look for new jobs, they all complain that updating their résumés is too painful and difficult a task. Yet, thanks to five easy tips I picked up from headhunters, career coaches, and law school career advisers (um, yeah, I have been on the job search before), the process need not be so unpleasant….

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Which t-shirt will get you fired?

Yesterday in Morning Docket, we mentioned that more than a dozen law firm staffers in Florida had been fired because they wore orange shirts to work, but the tips kept rolling in. We’re going to give you what you want. Better late than never, right?

Given that orange is popping this spring in designers’ color palettes, people really want to know more about this apparent fashion “faux pas.” Because if looking like a walking traffic cone is wrong, then some people don’t want to be right.

But if it means that they’re going to get fired, then they might just reconsider staying on trend this season….

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And so last week I wrote about mentors, questioning whether today’s young lawyers considered them crucial to professional and personal development. I questioned whether the high calling of being a lawyer has today been reduced solely to a desire for cash, and as such, nothing more than the hope to be “first” on Google and have a “game changing” web presence.

Which brings me to what you can call “Part II” of last week’s mentoring post, and an example of a lawyer to emulate.

There are certain lawyers that bring to mind a one- or two-word description. David Boies — Bush / Gore, Morris Dees — Civil Rights, Clarence Darrow — Criminal Defense, and when I hear “First Amendment,” I think Marc Randazza.

When I hear “first page of Google,” I can’t name one lawyer, and if I can, it’s not a lawyer that matters, except maybe to a bunch of lawyers looking to be the next internet sensation. Being an internet sensation as a lawyer is no different than having been a yellow pages sensation in the previous generation. Ever seen an obituary of a lawyer that said: “She was respected for her two-page, multicolored ads that were placed ahead of all other lawyers in the yellow pages”?

Marc Randazza isn’t an internet sensation. He’s only got about 275 followers on Twitter (and is therefore clearly on his way out of the profession if you ask any social media expert), but Marc Randazza matters.

Would you like to matter in this profession? Will you ever do anything important — anything that causes others to think of you as “that” lawyer for “that” type of case or issue? Or are you just hoping to win that stupid lawsuit against your law school for forcing you to go there because they promised you a job? Or maybe you’ve just bought in to the lie that to survive as a lawyer, you must vomit all over the internet with whatever your marketer tells you is the latest trick to game Google?

And before the commentariat’s collective head explodes, yes, Marc Randazza is my lawyer. I’m in the group currently being sued by Joseph Rakofsky….

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