It’s the one about the tech-illiterate Biglaw associate (I know, you’ve heard that one) who walks away from her promising career at one of the most prestigious law firms in the country . . . to invent a new category of software. . . for litigating! A magical software program that makes you better as a litigator and is so cool that you wish you thought of it yourself.
For this next profile in legal entrepreneurship, I’m excited to introduce Alma Asay, creator of Allegory. You may not have heard of Allegory yet, but pretty soon, it will be a household name for every litigator who wants to be at the top of their game.
Alma’s story has a special place in my heart because she is living my dream: bringing her success in Biglaw to the whole legal community through the wonders of technology. I met Alma earlier this year in Palo Alto, where she was embracing her inner Silicon Valley and I was speaking at Stanford Law’s awesome CodeX FutureLaw conference. We chatted over cocktails about the legal industry, law firm shenanigans, and life after Biglaw for those of us who didn’t run away screaming. I loved her stories of adventures in legal startup, and her product. Hopefully, you will too.
(Did I mention I get paid by the click? I’m kidding, but really, keep reading . . . this is a good one).
The business of law continues to evolve post-Great Recession. Law firms are dealing with clients who are trimming legal budgets, shunning expensive hourly billing rates and subsidized training of associates, and opting for smaller and more cost-sensitive legal options.
These trends have had a ripple effect. The job market for lawyers—while showing signs of improvement in small pockets—remains depressed, resulting in intense critiques of legal education, downward-trending law school applications, and law schools adapting or closing. Presumably, law students and new lawyers notice these trends and are strategizing accordingly, thinking commercially and entrepreneurially about their careers, and seeking the best legal experience and ROI in a rough macro legal market.
Entrepreneurs recognize these trends and a few startups—UpCounsel, Lawdingo, Priori Legal, and LawTrades—are riding a robust tech (and derivative branding) wave to disrupt the increasingly vulnerable legal industry. Each (i) strives to provide a frictionless and transparent platform for cost-conscious clients to quickly acquire legal services, and (ii) offers lawyers an alternative avenue to monetize their degrees free of typical infrastructural and administrative burdens of solo or small practice. This new crop of startups has earned the label “the Uber of law.” What is their value proposition for lawyers? Are they truly Uber-like providers of legal services, or is that just opportunistic branding? Should lawyers care?
When starting out, solo practitioners have to find clients. The traditional way, through networking and advertising, will get mixed results. So some think outside the box and try to find new ways to get people’s attention. Some attorneys have fantasized about setting up a hybrid business combining law and something else.
Law practice can successfully complement other work because of overlap. It is not unusual to see attorney/CPAs practicing in the areas of tax, business, and finance. I have also seen estate planning attorneys double as financial planners. And I have seen too many real estate lawyers work as sales agents or brokers on the side.
But once in a while, someone proposes a business that tries to combine law practice with something that seems totally unrelated, such as clothing sales or a bakery (I know some attorneys who have actually proposed these). These ideas sound crazy and in most cases go no further than that. But a brave few have ran with it. And some are seriously considering it in light of the terrible job market.
While I don’t want to wish ill on someone who is legitimately trying to make a living and taking a risk, I think most legal hybrid business plans are not viable. Not to mention sounding silly. Click onwards to find out why…
Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Sunny Choi of Ms. JD interviews lawyers who have found their passion by leaving the law.
Fact: The law isn’t for everyone. Fiction: You have to practice law if you’re a law school graduate.
Sometimes, you just have to leave the law completely and follow the road less traveled in order to find your true passion. I’ve interviewed two former attorneys who were brave enough to venture into the unknown and in the process, discover their passions outside of the law.
MEE-JUNG JANG (New York, NY)
1. What is your current occupation or line of work?
Grover Cleveland’s excellent book of career advice for young lawyers has a delightful title: Swimming Lessons For Baby Sharks (affiliate link). It nicely captures the competitive nature of the legal profession today.
But the cutthroat competition isn’t for everyone. One high-powered lawyer, coming up on partnership at a top-tier law firm, decided he didn’t want to swim with grown-up sharks. He’d rather go swim with blue whales — quite literally. He’d rather be where the wild things are — and by “wild things,” we aren’t talking about cute drunken paralegals at a post-closing party.
Let’s look at this lawyer’s departure memo — great opening line, or greatest opening line? — and find out how he made enough money to break out of Biglaw’s golden handcuffs….
We’ve extensively discussed in these pages the dangers of “reply all.” As you can see by paging through those archives, numerous members of the legal profession — associates, partners, deans of prominent law schools — have embarrassed themselves, often in entertaining fashion, with one little click of a button. They thought they were sending a private email to one individual, but whoops! They actually just hit “reply all.”
It’s great when hilarity ensues upon (mis)use of “reply all,” but it’s more common for it to be just annoying. In our age of overcommunication, people need to think more carefully about whether everyone on the original email needs to receive your reply. Do all the other people invited to the holiday party need to know when you’re arriving and what you’re bringing?
(In fairness, sometimes the sender is to blame. Protip: use “bcc.”)
But sometimes “reply all” can actually be a good thing. No, seriously….
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.
For years, I’ve been hearing firms describe their cultures as “entrepreneurial,” and I hardly paid the slightest attention. Like “collegial” or “collaborative,” it just seemed like so much white noise. Then finally I heard it once too often and had to face cold reality: I had absolutely no idea what these people — a lot of smart, articulate people — were talking about.
Let’s go to the dictionary, where we find:
1. characterized by the taking of financial risks in the hope of profit; enterprising
Other notions orbiting around the concept of entrepreneurism include engaging in genuine innovation and invention (to the extreme of shattering the status quo), proceeding decisively in the face of profound ambiguity and uncertainty, and shouldering the personal risk of sacrificing years of reliable income provided by others for whatever rewards you can persuade the market to deliver — with a meaningful risk those rewards could be nonexistent.
This is an audience participation column, so I ask you this: Would you describe your own firm as “entrepreneurial?” Are there firms you admire or look down upon that you’d describe as “entrepreneurial?” What mental image or behavior, what cultural archetype or partner personality type, pops into your mind when “entrepreneurial” is used to describe a firm?
The process of looking for a legal job is not a model of efficiency. The unemployed and underemployed desperately comb through hundreds of Craigslist postings. Meanwhile, the relatively privileged denizens of Biglaw get besieged by cold calls from legal recruiters, whether they’re looking for new jobs or not.
There has to be a better way. And one former Biglaw associate, an alumna of two top firms, believes she has the answer.
Finding a legal job: there’s an app — well, not an app, but a website — for that….
Ed. note: This post is sponsored by NexFirm. At NexFirm, we see dozens of new firms launch each year, and we seem to bond with both the people and the practice every time around. Their accomplishments feel like our success, and their disappointments, our failures. It makes for a great professional relationship, but it can also be painful when we see them repeat the same, predictable, new firm mistakes — especially ones that can be avoided with some guidance and forethought.
Attorneys who are launching their own firms tend to wring their hands over every small decision and miss the big picture. You feel overwhelmed, so you want to work feverishly to tackle your to-do list. After a long day full of “doing” without much “thinking,” you feel like you’ve really accomplished something. It’s an easy trap to fall into. It’s crucial to be thoughtful about the big things, set time aside to think about them, and treat them like the other action items on your list.
Start with these, the low hanging (albeit important) fruit:
1. Leave, Don’t Quit.
Focused on the unpleasant task of giving notice, worrying that you might piss someone off or — worse yet — be impeded from transitioning matters, you can easily miss the best marketing opportunity you will ever get. Use your resignation to ask your employer to give you business. Beg them, guilt them, scare them, do whatever you need to do, but make it happen. There is no one that knows you and your work better. If you can’t convince them to help you, in at least some small way, you are in trouble…