I like to think of this column as a conduit for information relevant to small firm practices. Given the variety of practice settings we’re lumping into the phrase “small law,” it’s important that you hear from people other than myself. I know, you’re crushed — me too. Toward that end, I’ll be interviewing small firm lawyers over the coming weeks (months?), and posting their thoughts and responses. I’ve talked to several of you out there (don’t think I’ve forgotten!), and I would love to hear from others interested in sharing their stories (please email me).
As an aside, I’m cognizant of the tension between asking my readers to tell me their stories and writing from behind a pseudonym. I actually would much prefer to drop the “Little Richard” moniker (c’mon, you’ll miss it a little), but am holding off until I get a green light from my current employer. I agree that you should know who’s talking to you, and I’m working on that.
In that vein, there are plenty of people besides me who are already talking to you, and doing so without the anonymity. Thus, I welcome you to my periodic roundup of news and musings from the small firm blogosphere. Think of it as your morning docket, only it won’t be up in the morning, it won’t be every day, and it will probably be less clever.
With that ringing introduction, let’s get to the list…
Today brings some updates in the ongoing saga of Andrew Shirvell, the Michigan assistant attorney general who writes Chris Armstrong Watch, a blog devoted to attacking the openly gay student body president of the University of Michigan. We’ve covered the story extensively (see here and here).
First, Shirvell’s blog is now “open to invited readers only” — i.e., it’s password-protected.
Second, Chris Armstrong is seeking a restraining order against Shirvell (who has shown up at events attended by Armstrong and also at Armstrong’s home). Judge Nancy Francis declined to issue an immediate restraining order but scheduled a hearing for next week. (Shirvell has already been banned from the Michigan campus, despite his status as a UM alumnus.)
Third, and most notably, Shirvell has taken a personal leave from the Michigan AG’s office. This announcement was made today by a spokesperson for Attorney General Mike Cox — who also mentioned that Shirvell will be the subject of a disciplinary hearing when he returns to work.
The news that Shirvell is out of the Michigan AG’s office, at least temporarily, will be welcome to many. But some observers, including our own Elie Mystal, have called for more: namely, Shirvell’s firing.
Let’s pause and consider: Would it be that easy to fire Andrew Shirvell? As a former government lawyer who once blogged about judges while appearing before them as a prosecutor, I have some thoughts on this….
Almost two years ago, I joined Twitter to help find a publisher for a book I was writing. A couple weeks later, a friend I followed on Twitter asked, “Does anybody know a contracts lawyer?” I responded and won a new client. A lawyer winning business on Twitter was somewhat unusual at that time, but it isn’t anymore. In the 2010 ABA Technology Survey Report, 10% of respondents “had a client retain their legal services as a result of use of online communities/social networking.” While 10% may seem small, it represents a dramatic shift in law firm attitudes towards social media.
So how are the successful attorneys doing it? By personally maintaining a presence online: 56% of attorneys reported having a presence in 2010, up from just 43% in 2009 and 15% in 2008. (In 2008, the social networks mentioned in the survey were Facebook, Second Life and LawLink — so times have changed a bit.) Bottom line is, there has been a clear shift over the last three years. Take a look at the classic innovation curve:
For those unfamiliar with the Rogers Innovation Curve, think of the first group of innovators as those who stood in line for the first iPhone, and the second group of early adopters as those who did their research and jumped on for the second version of the iPhone. The early majority represents widespread acceptance of the technology, and the late majority is when people like my father (who just recently stopped dictating emails to his secretary) buy iPhones. The laggards are those who have not yet figured out how to turn on their computers.
Participating in social networks is no longer a fringe activity enjoyed by the innovators and early adopters; it is now enjoyed by the early majority and a piece of the late majority. Social networks have hit the mainstream for lawyers, and since lawyers tend to lag behind the rest of the population in acceptance of new technology, I suspect there is even greater penetration among businesses and key decision makers.
How are different groups of lawyers responding to the social networking revolution?
Andrew Shirvell, the Michigan assistant attorney general who has decided to launch a smear campaign against a Michigan undergraduate student council president, appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 last night. Shirvell made headlines two weeks ago, when his hate blog against University of Michigan student council president Chris Armstrong attracted media attention. Shirvell claims Chris Armstrong advances a “radical homosexual agenda.” Shirvell’s blog depicts Armstrong with photoshopped swastikas on his face and features all sorts of hateful rhetoric directed against Armstrong. We previously wrote about Shirvell here.
I don’t know if Shirvell thought he was going to get fellated by Larry King when he walked into the CNN studio. But Anderson Cooper was not about to let this unrepentant homophobe have an unchallenged opportunity to spout his hate to a national audience. The best Cooper line: “You seem to be obsessed with this young, gay man.”
Why don’t you check out the video clip, and then we’ll discuss…
I wrote last week about the perceived level of interest from attorneys at small law firms in finding a collective voice. As I’m currently camping somewhere in the remote, internet-less regions of our northern neighbor, I haven’t the chance to check in with your comments and emails, but promise to do so upon my return to the internet-using world.
Speaking of camping, we’ve previously discussed lawyers decamping from Biglaw in favor of something cozier. Over at Adam Smith, Esq., Bruce MacEwen calls this phenomenon a “natural evolution of an industry under economic stress.” I call it an opportunity. The “natural evolution,” as MacEwen so eloquently terms it, means that there should be a growing interest among Above the Law’s existing readership in the opportunities offered by small-firm practice.
But I figured I needed a more clearly defined angle in order to pique the interests of your esteemed editors. As I thought about the potential for this column and how to pitch it to Lat and Elie, I ended up compiling a short list of reader profiles that I figured would take interest in such an endeavor.
Who is interested in reading about small law firms? Here’s an eye-pleasing numbered-list format….
“The secret to happiness in life is setting low expectations.”
– My Uncle Lyman
Over the past few weeks, in the comments to my ATL posts, there have been a number of questions about whether or not large law firms are bringing in real clients through their law blogs. While we have seen some instances of big wins that have come as a direct result of law blogs, these have been rare. What about the average law blogs? Have blogs lived up to the expectations of Biglaw firms?
My inquiry began by looking at all the law blogs of the Am Law 100 firms. Click here to see the full list. As you can see from the chart, the majority of the law blogs come from just a few firms. In fact, 5 percent of the firms account for 49 percent of the total law blogs of the Am Law 100.
So I went directly to these firms and asked them: Have the law blogs been worth it? Have they been worth the money, the effort, and the (expensive) billable time of the attorneys?
I spoke to several law firm partners and marketing officers to find out….
Some of you will recall that in my manifesto, I expressed the view that we need more clearinghouses for information on small law firms. Well, it turns out I’m not the only one hoping for a gathering of small law practitioners.
Over at MyShingle, Carolyn Elefant posted a great piece about the need for a stronger voice from solos and small law practitioners. While we are both trying to rally this group to a cause, I’ve been approaching the efforts of this column with an eye toward the need to get information out to law students and lawyers looking to transition into a smaller practice. Elefant, meanwhile, tackles the idea from a political clout perspective, issuing the following call to action:
[A]s someone who has been tracking the institution of solo practice for nearly eight years, I urge you to hear me out about why it’s more important than ever that we solos and small firms demand that the “powers that be” (in this case, the state bars, the ABA, the mainstream legal media and law schools) start regarding us as the main event.
Small law firms as the “main event”? I’m skeptical, but certainly interested. After all, the vast majority of lawyers in the U.S. are working for small firms or as solo shops. Why aren’t we the main event already?
Andrew Shirvell: Is there anything you'd like to tell us?
Andrew Shirvell is an assistant attorney general in Michigan, and he’s got a bone to pick with Chris Armstrong, president of the University of Michigan student body.
In other reports, Armstrong is referred to as “the gay president” of the Michigan student body. But on Andrew Shirvell’s blog devoted to Chris Armstrong, Shirvell refers to Armstrong as: “a viciously militant homosexual activist who is (currently) the president of the Michigan Student Assembly (MSA).”
You know what they say about vicious militants, Mr. Shirvell: it takes one to know one. Shirvell — who, once again, is an Assistant Attorney General — is using his blog to conduct the worst kind of “smear the queer” campaign, and it’s all directed against a college student. You’d call Shirvell a homophobe, but that would be insulting to the many bigots out there who merely try to suppress a civil liberty or two.
Andy Shirvell is well beyond your average gay-basher…
In a classic Seinfield episode, Jerry gets the phone number of a girl he is interested in from off of a list of people donating money for the AIDS Walk. Jerry does his best to keep this a secret from the girl, but eventually he lets it slip to George, who lets it slip to Susan, who tells her friend, who spills it it to the girl. The girl ends things with Jerry, offended that he would use a charity list to pick her up.
Why did she care? Because the way people get our information and how they use it matter to us. People hold on to their contact info as if it were solid gold. You give up your phone number and email address too easily, and you will be forever harassed by spam.
People do give up their email addresses, though, especially in exchange for information that they really want, or to people they like. This allows for something called permission marketing, an extremely powerful tool for building a prospect list for your practice. List building is an essential aspect of business development that is far too often overlooked. Often lost in the debate over the viability of social media is an improper or ineffective utilization of existing contact lists….
A college graduate without student loan debt is akin to reading a kind quote about Kim Kardashian in a tabloid—it’s rare.
In the past eight years, student loan debt has nearly tripled to a whopping $1.1 trillion, and in the past 10 years, the percentage of 25-year-olds with such debt has risen from 25% to 43%
It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that New York Fed economists warned last month that the burden of student debt could stilt consumer spending by twentysomethings, as well as further hamper the recovery of the housing market and economy.
To get a better idea of what massive student loan debt (we’re talking over $100,000 massive) looks like, we talked to an attorney who graduated with a large student loan debt. We also consulted LearnVest Planning Services CFP® Katie Brewer to see just how their repayment plans stack up.
S. Fischer, 36, Attorney Graduated: 2001
How Much I Borrowed: $100,000
What I Still Owe: $45,000
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Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deal flow has clearly picked recently up for most US associates, counsels and partners in Hong Kong/China and Singapore. We are on the phone with a lot of these folks on a daily basis, many of whom we have known for years. Further, the head of our Asia team, Evan Jowers, and Kinney’s founder and president, Robert Kinney, frequently meet in person with leading US partners in Asia to assess their needs and keep on top of the inside scoop at as many firms as possible. The need for legal recruiting help in Asia from experienced recruiters appears to be live and well. In March, Evan and Robert were in Beijing at such meetings, in April, Evan was in Hong Kong, and for half of June Evan will be in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Thus its pretty easy for us to tell when there has been an across-the-market pick up in capital markets and corporate work.
On an average day in Asia when Evan and Robert visit firms, they typically have 5 to 9 meetings a day, mostly with US partners in the market. The reason they have these meetings is not simply because Kinney makes a lot of US attorney placements in Asia and that a particular firm may have openings; instead these are just visits with friends. After years of working together as business partners, the folks at Kinney are actually these peoples’ friends. The firms Kinney work closely with in Asia (which is just about every law firm – call us if you want to know the one firm in the world we will never place anyone with again, ever, and why) look forward to the visits, or at least act like they do. After seven years in the market, many of the client partners are former associate candidates. Also, these US partners see Kinney as a very good source of market information as well, because they know how deep their contacts are in the market and how frequently they are speaking to counterparts at peer firms.
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