Boutique Law Firms

Christina Gagnier

Lawyers are not necessarily members of the most beloved profession. While an obvious statement, it is important to realize that your work may end up, despite your most ardent efforts, upsetting your own clients or any foes that you may have had in the course of a litigation matter.

One place that many lawyers overlook as a liability is intellectual property. If someone feels the need to get retribution, messing with a firm by taking advantage of “would-be” intellectual property may be a tactic employed. Make sure you are prepared by taking some common sense and low-cost precautions…

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Astute Biglaw associates, and their fellow associates at boutiques and smaller firms, share an understanding with Tyrion Lannister. For those who don’t watch Game of Thrones, nor read the books upon which the popular series is based, Tyrion (played by the Emmy-winning actor Peter Dinklage) is the proverbial “second son,” whose father serves as the de facto ruler of the kingdom. His sister is the Queen Regent whose taste for wine matches only her disdain for her younger brother.

At this point in the series (spoiler alert — skip down two paragraphs if you are not up to date with the show), Tyrion stands on trial for alleged regicide. Rightfully skeptical of his chances of exoneration by the tribunal standing in judgment of him, Tyrion elects for “trial by combat” as a means of proving his innocence. While a smart choice, Tyrion is far from capable of physically defeating the literal “Mountain” man that his sister and accuser has selected to represent the “State” in Westeros v. Lannister. He needs a champion.

And he finds one, in the form of a visiting Prince who nurses a longstanding grudge against both Tyrion’s family members, and the man who will be his co-combatant — lucky for Tyrion, as his previous attempts to recruit others to stand as his champion had failed. When we see him at his moment of salvation, he is a desperate man, jailed, facing capital punishment at the hands of a blood-starved beast who disembowels malnourished slaves for sport. The appearance of a champion may not improve his situation all that much. But it gives him hope, and with hope comes the will to carry on.

Law firm associates may not have it quite as bad as Tyrion, but they share in common with him the need for a champion to secure their future….

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Christina Gagnier

Cybersecurity is becoming an important issue for lawyers, whether you are a solo or working at a multinational law firm. When it is so easy and seamless from a workflow perspective to move to the cloud, many firms are pushing their operations and employees to this technology. There are many considerations to weigh when deciding to go from the file cabinet or local server to the cloud…

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The social dynamics within Biglaw firms can mirror those found in pre-colonial Puritan societies. Long working hours in harsh competitive conditions, hierarchical command structures, and a recognition that the group is only as strong as its weakest member. Common features of both your local Biglaw firm and Plymouth, Massachusetts, circa 1650.

Smallpox may no longer be the threat it was to the pilgrims, but Biglaw associates (and increasingly partners) are susceptible to career killers just as deadly. Reputation is everything in Biglaw, and decisions about someone’s suitability to remain employed in Biglaw are often made on the basis of (sometimes undeserved) labels that can attach to someone with the adhesive grip of a miracle glue from a late-night informercial. Yes, Biglaw lawyers can find themselves branded with the equivalent of a scarlet letter. Just like young Hester Prynne, but rather than being branded with an “A,” Biglaw folk get tagged with one-word denigrations of their fitness to reach the promised land of partnership.

There are plenty of one-word adjectives that serve as partnership (and often employment) disqualifiers for those in Biglaw. And just as there is no “I” in team, there are not many favorable descriptors for Biglaw lawyers that start with that letter. Intelligent? Everyone in Biglaw is, at least relative to the large majority of the human race. Inspired? Better suited to describe someone in public interest law, rather than a regulatory expert skilled at carving out exceptions for clients that want to circumvent the very rules that the rest of society is expected to abide by.

What about “interesting”?

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Christina Gagnier

As awareness and use of Bitcoin increases, the question of whether our firm takes Bitcoin, or whether any lawyer should consider taking this new currency as a form of payment, is becoming ever more timely as many lawyers, particularly solos and small firms, try to keep their practices as virtual as possible…

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For Biglaw attorneys, it can take a while to realize the importance of face-to-face interaction in the business world. Especially for those young attorneys who start working at Biglaw firms immediately after graduating law school, and who attended law school immediately after college. In my case, I had a year of real “work experience” before starting law school, but in a very junior position.

So I was not involved, as I suspect most young people outside of tech startups are, in important business interactions. It is debatable whether someone’s experience seeking funding for an app that locates and arranges delivery of fresh donuts on a 24-hour basis counts as “real” business experience of value to lawyers. Nevertheless, many Biglaw attorneys land in their partner-discarded Aeron chair knock-off by jumping directly off the college-law school cliff of debt. And as a result have never attended an important business meeting before joining Biglaw. Ever….

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Juan Monteverde and Alexandra Marchuk

The courtroom battle between Alexandra Marchuk and the litigation boutique where she once worked, Faruqi & Faruqi, rages on. As longtime readers will recall, Marchuk alleges that F&F partner Juan Monteverde sexually harassed her, in severe fashion, and that the firm’s leaders ignored his alleged misdeeds.

But no matter who wins in court, it’s possible to argue that the firm is ending up the loser. It has endured extensive bad publicity, and some of the resulting instability has apparently led to lawyer departures.

Who are the latest attorneys to defect from Faruqi & Faruqi?

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That pesky expert witness is claiming that a AAA battery can’t injure your client as much as you claim. How do you undermine his testimony? Confronting him with strongly-worded questions informed by careful scientific research is one way.

Trying to electrocute him is another way.

Guess which one the lawyer chose in this case?

Oh, Watt the hell, I’ll spoil it, the lawyer tried to electrocute him….

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Last week, I addressed how technological advances and freer access to information can help ex-Biglaw partners like myself transition to a boutique practice without disruption — from the standpoint of being able to conduct a litigation practice in much the same way it was conducted while in Biglaw. As I said, it has become much easier to gain access to the litigation work product of Biglaw firms, for example, reducing Biglaw’s edge in knowledge management over a start-up firm like ours.

Of course, how best to exploit that work product requires training and skill, and to some extent a Biglaw-caliber background to begin with. In other words, the information may be more accessible, but it does not come with an instruction manual. At least when it comes to patent litigation, everyone needs to learn the trade the hard way.

But there is another important area where Biglaw’s edge is eroding….

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Q: You can’t just have a bunch of clients with preexisting intentions to kill someone?

A: Yeah, that would certainly make things more risky for the firm.

– An exchange between Above the Law columnist Carolyn Elefant and Daily Show correspondent Jordan Klepper, in a segment about the trend of small law firms offering “self-defense retainer plans” for gun owners.

(Read more and watch the full, funny clip, after the jump.)

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