Boutique Law Firms

Tom Wallerstein

Next week my firm will celebrate its fourth anniversary. I can’t believe it has been that long. It seems like yesterday that I was sitting at my desk at Quinn Emanuel, thinking about cases worth millions of dollars but still too small to be economically handled by traditional Biglaw firms. I wondered if I might try to serve a growing market hungry for less expensive but still high-quality litigation. Not long thereafter I was conspiring with my partner over the details, drafting business plans, and conducting informal marketing surveys.

As my firm approaches its fourth anniversary, it’s interesting for me to think back to my early plans and consider what worked, and what did not. What happened as I predicted or hoped, and what was unexpected…

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Justice Sonia Sotomayor has earned millions of dollars in royalties from her bestselling book, My Beloved World (affiliate link). Maybe it’s time for her to upgrade from that perfectly nice but far from lavish D.C. condo.

But she’s still far from being able to purchase the home of her former boss, George Pavia, who hired Sotomayor after she left the Manhattan District Attorney’s office (and later promoted her to partner). The patrician Pavia, managing partner of the Pavia & Harcourt boutique firm, just sold his magnificent townhouse on the Upper East Side for $19.5 million.

Pavia’s former residence is an elegant five-story, red-brick, neo-Georgian townhouse. It sits on a quiet, tree-lined block between Fifth and Madison Avenues, just steps away from Central Park and luxury shopping.

It would be many a Manhattanite’s dream home. But it actually comes with a nightmarish history….

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Tom Wallerstein

By the time I graduated from law school in 1999, I had become rather risk-averse. For example, several of my friends were excited to enter the dot.com world with hopes of becoming uber-wealthy. I eschewed those prospects for the security of a more regular, albeit more modest, Biglaw paycheck. Eighty thousand per year struck me then (and now) as a generous starting salary.

Of course, forming and managing a new law firm is a risky business proposition. But to the extent that I now am fully responsible for generating my own work, I feel like I actually have greater job security than I did when I was beholden to working for other rainmakers on their cases. So even though starting a firm was risky, it didn’t really portend a fundamental shift in my natural inclination to prefer security over risks even if that means foregoing potentially bigger gains.

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series from Bruce MacEwen and Janet Stanton of Adam Smith Esq. and JDMatch. “Across the Desk” takes a thoughtful look at recruiting, career paths, professional development, human capital, and related issues. Some of these pieces have previously appeared, in slightly different form, on AdamSmithEsq.com.

Next in our series on a taxonomy of law firms are the capital-markets centric firms.

If you think this moniker roughly translates to the classic New York white shoe elite, move to the head of the class.

But, as much in our world at the start of the 21st Century, it’s not exactly that simple. Here’s what’s different about these firms.

First, recall that we’ve hypothesized seven primary species…

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Stanley M. Chesley

People have strong opinions about Stan Chesley, the high-profile, hugely successful plaintiffs’ lawyer — or former plaintiffs’ lawyer, since he recently got disbarred in Kentucky and gave up his law license in Ohio (in a retirement application that was notarized by his wife, federal judge Susan Dlott). Here are some choice comments about Chesley, nicknamed the “Prince of Torts” and “Master of Disaster”:

  • “[A]n opportunist and just a nasty son of a bitch.”
  • “[W]hat [Chesley] does is evil.”
  • “The ultimate grotesque, exaggerated perversion of what it means to be a lawyer.”
  • “He has balls as big as brass bells.”

And those bells are still ringing. Stan Chesley might not be back in the courtroom, but he’s back in the headlines in Ohio….

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Tom Wallerstein

A law school friend told me about a deposition he defended in Waco, Texas, where the temperature reached 105 degrees. At the time, my friend Geoff was an associate at a stuffy BigLaw firm, and there was never any doubt that he was required to wear a suit. And especially because the deposition was videotaped, the witness did, too.

Plaintiffs’ counsel was the owner of a smallish firm in Florida and he showed up wearing shorts, sandals and a short-sleeved polo shirt.

When they arrived at the deposition location, Geoff and his witness were dismayed to learn that the air conditioning wasn’t working. As the day progressed, the conference room grew increasingly warm. By late morning, the witness was restless and hot and kept firing glances across the room to the dormant air conditioner. The video was priceless; every answer was punctuated by the witness sweating and mopping his forehead. Geoff told me later that he thought his witness looked like he was lying even when he wasn’t.

Learn the truth about Geoff’s deposition…

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series from Bruce MacEwen and Janet Stanton of Adam Smith Esq. and JDMatch. “Across the Desk” takes a thoughtful look at recruiting, career paths, professional development, human capital, and related issues. Some of these pieces have previously appeared, in slightly different form, on AdamSmithEsq.com.

We humans like to put things in categories.

And while we can get it plain wrong, or mix up two categories benignly or malignly, there’s no question our propensity for categorization — from friend or foe and food to poison, to Linnaeus, to the periodic table, to the Dewey decimal system — has gotten us a long way on the planet so far.

So today we launch our own taxonomy of law firms….

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Juan Monteverde

When Alexandra Marchuk filed her epic lawsuit against her former firm, Faruqi & Faruqi LLP, and one of its partners, Juan E. Monteverde, she aired a lot of dirty laundry. Here’s one allegation that got a lot of attention in the corporate-law community: “[In advance of a Delaware Chancery Court hearing,] Mr. Monteverde explained that Judge [Travis] Laster was partial to good-looking female lawyers, but F&F’s female local counsel was ugly; so Mr. Monteverde wanted Ms. Marchuk to appear with him because her good looks would influence the judge in favor of F&F. Mr. Monteverde told Ms. Marchuk to wear her hair down, wear a low-cut shirt, and to try to look as alluring as possible during the hearing.”

Some wondered: did members of the Delaware Chancery Court hear about this rather embarrassing allegation? The answer would appear to be yes, based on a letter that a Faruqi lawyer recently received after moving for Juan Monteverde to be admitted pro hac vice….

Please note the UPDATE added after the jump.

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Tom Wallerstein

I’m pleased to announce that the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. To the contrary, I survived my surprise three-week trial. It wasn’t a total surprise, of course. I had been expecting a trial, just not one that lasted more than a week.

Not that I’m complaining. Frankly, trying cases is a whole lot of fun. I’ve written before about my passion for trials and the competitive aspect of litigation generally.

That internal motivation is crucial for me. Trials usually require demanding hours, and that is the least of it. Beyond the mere number of hours spent working, I often find trying a case to be exhausting. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. Whenever you’re not on center stage, say, conducting a witness examination, you are paying rapt attention, thinking and calculating and strategizing. Sustaining that over time, day after day, can be difficult. You have to give your all, and then some. And when even more is asked of you, fate will decide the rest…

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1010 Fifth Avenue is just steps away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (visible in the background).

Biglaw isn’t the only source of big bucks. In fact, some of the wealthiest lawyers in America are plaintiffs’ lawyers who work on their own or in small law firms.

But you don’t need to be a plaintiff-side lawyer from Texas to strike it rich. A partner at an elite litigation boutique in New York just bought an apartment once owned by a famous business mogul.

Let’s see what $12.5 million buys in the Big Apple these days….

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