Solo Practitioners

Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy, is available on Amazon (affiliate link).

My client’s concise estimate of her second year at a big law firm:

“Meh.”

For months, the “career” consisted of one-third idleness, one-third word-processing, and one-third pointless research. That morphed over time into “managing” doc review, which morphed into doing doc review, which translated into odious hours staring at odious documents on a computer and clicking “responsive/relevant” or “privileged” or some euphemism for “embarrassing.” According to rumors at her firm, there’s juicy stuff squirreled away in electronic nooks and crannies – most notoriously, emails from execs’ hiring hookers. To date, my client’s experience of “doing doc review” has matched the edge-of-your-seat excitement of watching drywall compound discharge moisture.

“There are days I want to scream, ‘Who are we fooling?!’” she remonstrated. (Granted, there wasn’t much use remonstrating with me, since I’m her therapist. Sometimes you just need to remonstrate – to demonstrate you can remonstrate.) “This isn’t a career – it isn’t even a job. It’s a joke. Every day I think about quitting.”

But she doesn’t.

Why?

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Reema Bajaj: pretty and professional.

I have previously expressed my belief in the innocence of Reema N. Bajaj, the 25-year-old lawyer who has been charged with prostitution. This Illinois solo practitioner didn’t strike me as a prostitute — and some who know her personally concur. A classmate of Bajaj from Northern Illinois University College of Law expressed his shock at the charges, and college students whom Bajaj taught described a caring and considerate teacher — an unlikely lawbreaker.

But, in fairness to the prosecution, evidence does exist that could be construed as supporting the charges. And some of this evidence is rather salacious — to wit, photographs of Reema Bajaj’s bajayjay.

If you have delicate sensibilities, please stop reading here. If you have a stomach for somewhat scandalous (but still safe for work) material, however, you may continue….

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Today brings more news coverage of Reema Bajaj, the rather attractive 25-year-old lawyer accused of moonlighting as a prostitute. Her story was written up in the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune, among other outlets.

Both papers covered the newest development in the case, a court hearing yesterday. Bajaj pleaded not guilty to three counts of prostitution (two misdemeanors and one felony), according to her lawyer, David Camic of Aurora, Illinois.

I have previously expressed my gut instinct that Reema Bajaj is innocent. Maybe I’m guilty of judging a book by its cover, but she just looks innocent — youthful and sweet and wide-eyed. She is a young Midwestern woman, of South Asian ancestry, who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. It doesn’t get much more wholesome than that.

And now I don’t have to rely solely upon racial stereotyping vague intuitions. Now I have additional evidence, from several sources — including a law school classmate of Reema Bajaj….

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In my earlier story about Reema Bajaj, the 25-year-old Illinois solo practitioner who now faces prostitution charges, I noted that she seems “very sweet and wholesome,” as well as “a fundamentally decent person.” And I adhere to this position. When I reached out to her through her law firm website, to see if she had any comment on the charges, I received this auto-reply:

My confidence in you, dear lovely Reema, remains unshaken. I am impressed by your politeness. I suspect that there’s more to your story than meets the eye. I remind all of our readers that you have only been accused — and remain innocent until proven otherwise.

In response to our request for tips about Reema, we heard from one of her law school classmates, who provided additional info about Reema N. Bajaj….

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This may be a sad commentary on the challenges facing young lawyers today. A 25-year-old solo practitioner in Sycamore, Illinois, has been accused of trying to supplement her income through prostitution.

Last week, attorney Reema N. Bajaj was charged with three counts of prostitution. The charges arise out of two incidents that allegedly took place on August 13, 2010, and May 10, 2011. But police allege that Bajaj has been engaging in prostitution activity for several years, even before she was admitted to the Illinois bar.

As it turns out, Reema Bajaj is a rather pretty woman. In light of her attractiveness — see pics after the jump — it’s surprising how little she was allegedly charging for her services….

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There comes a time in the career of every law-firm lawyer when she realizes that her bosses are acting like idiots, that “they’re doing it wrong,” and that she could do a better job if she were running her own law firm. Most of the time, that idea goes no further: the lawyer rattles off a few choice curse words, ignores the partners’ shortcomings, gets the work done the way they want it, and lives to fight another day.

But for a small minority, this outburst becomes an epiphany, and then turns into a dream (kind of like Inception, but in reverse), then an obsession, then finally a reality. Others, like me, always knew that they they were going to start their own law firms, and it didn’t take frustration with partners for that idea to form.

So when’s the perfect time to start your own firm? The answer is the same as for the question of when’s the perfect time to start having kids:

Never.

But forget the “perfect” time. When’s the best time to start your own firm?

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[Lawyer Dennis] Gingold claims to have billed an astonishing 48,772 hours on this case—which works out to almost 9.5 hours a day, every day without a single day off, between November 4, 1995, and December 7, 2009. This includes a seven-year stretch where Mr. Gingold billed 28,230 hours—an average of eleven hours a day, every day seven days a week without a single day off.

As anyone who has had to keep billing records knows, it is rare for ten hours of billing to take only ten hours: there are bathroom breaks, coffee breaks, meal breaks, interruptions, and so forth. There are legendary accounts of tireless attorneys who forgo family and leisure; work on little sleep; and are able to regularly bill 3000 hours a year, but they are few and far between. Perhaps Mr. Gingold is one of these exceptional individuals, so far above average that he can routinely bill 4000 hours a year without loss of productivity or health, but this proposition merits scrutiny.

Ted Frank, founder of the Center for Class Action Fairness, in a brief objecting to the proposed $3.4 billion, taxpayer-funded Cobell Indian trust settlement. The settlement includes a fee request in which solo practitioner Dennis Gingold claims to have billed over 28,000 hours in seven years — at his hourly rate of $925 an hour.

Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Size Matters, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

It is not easy staying abreast of all of the important issues affecting small firms, but I do it because my words impact our nation’s policy. Do you think it was a coincidence that less than a week after I instituted the Small Firm Pro Bono Push, the Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee suggested that private-sector employees need to do more pro bono work? Obviously not.

But sometimes even I need guidance. So I enlisted the help of Susan Cartier Liebel, the guru of solo practice.

Liebel founded Solo Practice University (“SPU”) in order to provide the resources for people to start their own firms that she found to be utterly lacking when she first decided to hang a shingle. SPU offers a wide variety of educational programs and networking opportunities. As Liebel stated, SPU provides the 360-degree experience to learn how to open a law firm in a simple-to-use and cost-effective online platform.

Above the Law covered SPU back in 2009, but much has changed over the past two years. Learn more about SPU after the break….

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Mel Gibson

* Mel Gibson has reached a plea agreement in a battery case involving his ex-girlfriend. #losing #BeaverBlood [Associated Press]

* Meanwhile, Lilo isn’t accepting her plea deal. No ma’am. Not for all the Texas booger sugar in the world. Well, maybe for all the Texas booger sugar. But that wasn’t really offered. [New York Post]

* A look at Jowls McRaisinhead’s Arlen Specter’s move to solo practice. [Legal Intelligencer via WSJ Law Blog]

* The Wisconsin Senate passed sweeping curbs on collective bargaining yesterday. The protesters are still howling, but I wonder how loud they’ll be when Pinkertons shove batons in their faces. That’s not actually happening. I just have a fairly violent and anachronistic imagination. [Reuters]

* House Republicans have gone meta in promising a defense of the Defense of Marriage Act. [Los Angeles Times]

* State Senator Carl Kruger, of Brooklyn, will turn himself in on corruption charges today. Big up to Crooklyn. [New York Times]

* Coach Sweater Vest’s hilarious understanding of attorney-client privilege is hilarious. [The Lantern]

* Profits per partner at Kirkland & Ellis topped $3 million in 2010, and the firm boosted its revenue even though it shed some lawyers. I Can Has Spring Bonus? [Am Law Daily]

Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Size Matters, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

We all know that it is only a matter of time before we are replaced by computers. As Elie explained a few weeks ago, the legal community is already predicting how computers can do the work of junior associates. I guess we can breathe a momentary sigh of relief after Rep. Rush Holt showed Watson who is boss. But I personally have been preparing for this day since 1985, when I first learned about Vicki from Small Wonder.

With the writing on the wall, it seems like there is no better time for us to embrace our computer brethren. And small law firms should be leading the charge.

My firm is not at the bleeding edge of legal technology. There are mid-level associates who still insist on dictating their briefs. We only recently converted to using Microsoft Word. Mark-ups are old-school (i.e., a red pen is used to mark-up a paper copy). And all associates are expected to be conversant in Morse Code. As an aside, this has actually come in handy when I send out my daily S.O.S.

But there are some small law firms doing big things with technology….

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