Boutique Law Firms

Strike a pose.

Over the last week or so, the internet has gone a little bonkers over the newest viral video sensation, in the tradition of the Chris Brown wedding dance and athletes lip-synching to Call Me Maybe.

If you don’t know the video I’m talking about, it’s an old home movie from 1992 of Shaun Sperling’s bar mitzvah. In the video, the then 13-year-old boy dances — quite enthusiastically, in front of dozens of cheering friends and family members — to Madonna’s “Vogue.” It’s just as goofy and awesome as it sounds.

Well, 20 years later Sperling is a commercial litigation attorney in Chicago. In between appearances on the Today Show and Jimmy Kimmel, we caught up with him to ask if his newfound fame has affected his legal work over the last few weeks. In short: it’s been great.…

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With both law school and the law school application season about to resume, let’s return to our popular series of Law School Success Stories. While we believe it’s important to provide our readers with accurate information about the perils of law school, including data about high lawyer unemployment and crushing student debt, we like to balance out the doom and gloom with stories of successful lawyers who made winning bets on legal education.

Today’s success story comes to us via the august pages of the New York Times. Even though this young lawyer didn’t go to a top-tier law school, he’s enjoying a phenomenal legal career, marked by fame and fortune.

His story contains valuable lessons for people thinking about, or already enrolled in, law school. Let’s learn more about him, shall we?

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Tom Wallerstein

I’ve heard that a hungry dog hunts best. I don’t know if that’s actually true because my pugs were always hungry, and yet they could not have caught a three-legged turtle. But the saying makes sense, and I do know that staying hungry — but not desperate — is an important concept for law firms.

One way a young firm should stay hungry is to always search for new business. There are good reasons that I constantly harp on the importance of business development. Even if you are fortunate enough to be busy, you never know when your current workload may dry up. This is particularly true in litigation because any case can always settle or otherwise resolve unexpectedly. No matter how busy you are, you should constantly seek out new work and new clients.

But seeking out new work comes at a potential cost to your current cases and clients. You can’t be so desperate to grow that you spend so much time on business development that you ignore your current clients or let your current caseload suffer. Some lawyers take a churn and burn approach, trying to maximize their short-term return from every engagement, with no concern for the longer-term client relationship. To form a practice that’s built to last, you need to work hard to maintain those relationships, and that means you can’t neglect your current clients while constantly fishing for newer ones….

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If you want to show off guns to your summer associates, just take them to a firing range.

Our latest summer associate story — involving a gun, too much wine, the managing partner’s boyfriend, and the summer associate who slapped him — is turning into the Biglaw version of Rashomon. We’ve heard so many different versions of the tale, from so many different perspectives.

Was the managing partner’s boyfriend a lowly transit cop or an NYPD detective? Did he brandish his firearm, or did it “come out in a joking manner”? How inappropriately did the summer associate in question act? How drunk was everyone at this wine tasting event?

If you’ve had enough of this tale, you can stop reading here. But if you’re willing to hear one more account of the proceedings, keep reading….

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Hands off the managing partner, please.

This morning we told you about an incident in which the boyfriend of a managing partner allegedly pulled a gun on a summer associate. The claim was that the summer associate had touched the managing partner’s arm. A managing partner of a major law firm is a pretty important person, but applying a “do not touch” rule to her, as if she were the Queen of England, might be taking things a bit far.

We stated in our post that there had to be another side to this story — and we were right. In the alternative version, the gun in question was not actually pointed at the summer associate. And the summer associate was not exactly a saint — which might be the real reason he got no-offered by the firm.

Let’s find out what he allegedly did, as well as the identity of the law firm in question….

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This could be the last thing you see before you get no offered.

Haven’t we all been there? You’re a summer associate at a law firm event. You see the managing partner. You down your drink and work up the courage to introduce yourself to her, determined to make a good impression. You’re trying to get her attention, and maybe you brush up against her arm. And the next thing you know, her boyfriend is pointing a gun in your face.

Oh wait, that never happens to anybody. At least, it’s not supposed to. But according to one source, it did happen to a summer associate at an IP boutique around town.

And, you’re not going to believe this, but the kid apparently did not get an offer from the firm…

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Tom Wallerstein

For attorneys starting their own firms, one of the more difficult things to learn is how much time to spend on a prospective client. Attorneys take various approaches. Some attorneys say, reasonably enough, I don’t work for free, and will do little more than quote their rates. Attorneys who employ mass marketing will offer a “free consultation,” but that generally amounts to little more than a way to encourage unsophisticated clients to call them as opposed to someone else.

If your business model depends on high volume of a particular type of case, it probably doesn’t make sense to devote too much effort to soliciting any one particular client. But if you are pursuing fewer, higher-stakes or more complex matters, then you very well could struggle with how to strike the proper balance….

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Some have compared the world of large law firms to a gilded cage. The lawyers who toil for Biglaw may earn big bucks, but in exchange for the pay, they spend thousands of hours stuck in the office, shackled to their desks, deriving all their sustenance from Seamless.

So whose gilded cage is the most golden, the most elegant, the most comfortable? Welcome to Above the Law’s first-ever Lawyerly Lairs contest: a quest to discover the best law firm offices in America.

What do mean by “best”? Who is eligible to enter? How can entries be submitted?

Read on for the official contest rules and nomination guidelines….

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Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are well accustomed to the concept of diversity. San Franciscans embrace it. They live among and celebrate people of every race, ethnicity and nationality. They embrace every sexual orientation. And they welcome political persuasions spanning the gamut from socialist to liberal. Ah, life’s infinite diversity.

I’ve mentioned before that when I snorkeled in the Cayman Islands, I was amazed at the vast number of different species of fish. When I go to a favorite deli or café, I’m reluctant to order “the usual,” however much I might enjoy it, because I’ve always believed that variety is good. The concepts of variety and diversity present themselves to us every day.

Diversity is also an important concept for law firms, especially smaller law firms and boutiques. And this is true of “diversity” in a variety of contexts, some of which are not so obvious….

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Tom Wallerstein

I recently had a client ask me about asset protection strategies. Having read The Firm (affiliate link) before I ever went to law school, and mindful of the classic Tom Cruise movie of the same name, of course I did what any diligent attorney devoted to client-service would do: I headed off to the Cayman Islands to investigate.

Due to an unfortunate series of strange boating accidents which I am not at liberty to discuss, my trip ended up lasting a bit longer than I expected. My email and telephone conversations also became compromised, hence my extended ATL hiatus.

Alas, the good guys prevailed, I am back safe and sound, and I’m happy to write about some of my reflections from beautiful Cayman (pronounced, as I learned from the locals, “Cay-Man,” with two distinct, equally prominent syllables, almost rhyming with “Cave-Man;” not “Cay-min” rhyming with “layman”)….

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