Boutique Law Firms

Tom Wallerstein

Like millions of others, I spent Tuesday night watching television. I wished I was watching the misfit Giants win the World Series (again). Instead, I was watching America’s other favorite pastime: the presidential election. Like everyone else, I watched a giant map of the country light up in rosy red and electric blue. We tweeted witticisms to our followers, and liked our friends’ posts.

I’m sure it was nerve wracking for President Obama and Governor Romney. They had done all they could, and there was nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile. I imagine that they must have felt similar to a trial lawyer waiting for a jury to return with its verdict….

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Tom Wallerstein

I’m always humbled when readers email me, and I try to respond to every message. But alas, not everyone is a fan. My column last week on artificial deadlines generated a long rant of an email from attorney Bob V., excerpted here:

“I was disappointed when, instead of using your column to preach about common courtesy and civility, you used it to rationalize and justify boorish attorney behavior. I thought you were actually going to condemn this kind of BS but instead you went on to rationalize it by fictionalizing a series of explanations for immature, boorish, behavior. Your rationalization about why the partner might justifiably have acted the way she did shows what is all wrong with the practice of law…”

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In the next few months, we’re going to see a lot of lawyers switching jobs in Washington, D.C. Regardless of who wins the election — my current prediction is that Barack Obama will prevail (sorry, Anonymous Partner) — many lawyers will move into and out of government in the weeks before and after Inauguration Day.

For those who joined the Obama Administration early, three or four years is long enough to make them nostalgic for private sector paychecks. What use is a punched ticket if you never redeem it?

In fact, the movement has already started. Today we bring you news of two notable moves from the nation’s capital. One of them involves a lawyer leaving a top government post, and the other concerns an in-house lawyer entering the firm world….

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Tom Wallerstein

My friend Pablo told me that when Monica, a partner, called his home at 9:00 p.m., he knew it couldn’t be good. Why not email? For an instant, he considered letting the call go to voicemail. Taking a deep breath, he answered.

Monica wanted to know “where he was” with the brief Pablo had been working on. She had not given him any particular deadline, so he explained that he expected to circulate the draft for review the following evening. The brief was a motion to dismiss, and he knew the deadline to file was still two weeks away. He was allowing the partner one week to review before she had to send to the client, who in turn would have another week to review.

The partner, however, had a different idea. “I want it on my desk tomorrow by 8 a.m.,” she told Pablo.” “Not a moment later.”

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As we recently mentioned, Biglaw is not all about the benjamins. There is so much more to the practice of law than the monetary rewards. Focus on doing the best work you can for your clients and your colleagues, and the money will take care of itself (well, at least most of the time).

Of course, it’s much easier to take a relaxed attitude towards money if you have a good amount of it. It’s easy for well-paid partners to tell young associates not to worry about money, when the partners enjoy seven-figure paychecks while the associates struggle under six-figure student loans.

If you’re a young lawyer dealing with educational debt, you know that every extra dollar counts. Every dollar earned means you’re one buck closer to liberation from loans.

Which leads us to today’s question: which law firms pay the largest starting salaries to their associates?

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Tom Wallerstein

Historically, to succeed in Biglaw, associates were expected to be conspicuously present not only during the workday, but at night and on weekends as well. Meeting this expectation is generally referred to as putting in “face time.”

Face time has negative connotations. An associate puts in face time so that he will be perceived to be working as hard, or harder, than his colleagues. The implication is that the time spent at the office is strictly for show, as opposed to serving any bona fide purpose. Some attorneys are especially resentful of face-time requirements because they believe their value is easily and objectively reflected in their billable hours.

Associates, however, are now rejoicing that the face time requirement is lessened thanks to the rise of virtual offices, telecommuting, and other non-traditional remote working arrangements. Finally, binders full of women are able to hurry home to cook dinner without suffering from disparate pay or partnership prospects.

But is that really true? Is face time less important than it used to be?

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Tom Wallerstein

A friend of mine — now a successful partner — told me a story about when he was a junior associate at a well-known Biglaw firm. Phil used to work for a superstar partner who was incredibly well respected by his colleagues and clients, but somewhat feared by junior associates. Phil told me about the time when he had to confess to the partner that he had inadvertently produced to their adversary a small number of documents that had been tagged as “non-responsive”; i.e., documents that did not need to be produced because the adversary had not requested them.

Phil expected yelling and screaming, profanity, maybe a fist pounding on the table. But instead, the partner was silent. His face showed disappointment, not anger. He slowly shook his head side to side several times, muttering to himself, seemingly unable to comprehend why fate should be so cruel as to condemn him to work with such incompetents. He rubbed at his face and eyes, first with one hand, and then the other, as if he hoped to awaken himself from a stubborn bad dream.

After several moments, he sighed loudly, and looked at Phil with seeming pity. He sighed again, to make sure my friend fully comprehended the weight of despair that he was bearing, and then once more, for good measure. Finally, the partner said simply, “We’ll have to call the carrier.”

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Just because you may be a highly successful, incredibly busy attorney doesn’t mean you can’t pursue badass hobbies on the side. Sketch comedy, climbing mountains — sorry, golf doesn’t count — or martial arts fighting.

We interviewed the name partner at a major East Coast plaintiffs’ firm about his devoted jiu jitsu training, his background as a young boxer, and his successful fight competition last month.

Before we jump in the ring, and learn more about the attorney and his fun, unusual hobby, take a quick bow…

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‘What is this? A law school for ants?’

* According to a CNN poll, 67 percent of people who watched the debate thought Mitt Romney won, while only 25 percent thought Barack Obama won. Well, either way you slice it, there was definitely one loser: poor old Jim Lehrer. [CNN]

* If Barack Obama could’ve had his way, he would’ve put Osama bin Laden on trial to display American due process and the rule of law. We suppose that now he’ll just have to take credit for being the man who ordered the kill shot. [WSJ Law Blog]

* A handful of Biglaw firms advised on the T-Mobile and MetroPCS merger, but Telecommunications Law Professionals, a boutique firm, showed up to prove it could hang with the big boys. [DealBook / New York Times]

* From boutique to Biglaw? Joseph Bachelder, an executive compensation expert, shuttered his 10-lawyer firm in favor of joining McCarter & English as special counsel in New York. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* Remember Ellen Pao, the former Cravath associate who sued Kleiner Perkins for sex discrimination? She now claims that the VC firm fired her. Of course, like everything else, KPCB denies it. [Bits / New York Times]

* A J.D. isn’t a hoax, but if law schools keep admitting huge classes, the degree will become one. The dean of UC Hastings Law thinks law schools should’ve reduced their class sizes a long time ago. [Huffington Post]

Tom Wallerstein

Is law school worth the tuition? Should I take out loans to go to a highly-ranked school, or accept a scholarship to a lower-ranked school? These are the burning questions that this website loves to pose.

I have opinions on these subjects like everyone else, but honestly, what do I know? The legal market was very different when I went to law school.

I attended The University of Pennsylvania Law School from 1996 through 1999.  I loved my classes, my professors and my friends. Sure, law school was stressful, but, as I frequently quipped, it was better than work.

I have distinct memories of on-campus recruiting. OCR seemed stressful at the time, but it can hardly be compared to the stress that students now face In This Economy. In the late 1990s, attending a T-14 school virtually guaranteed you a Biglaw job, if that’s what you wanted.

And we did. All but a handful of my classmates aspired to work in Biglaw, at least to start our careers….

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