Jay Shepherd

I tried to be a good boss over the years I ran my law firm. Some of my lawyers might tell you that I succeeded; others might be less charitable in describing my managerial skills. But I always made an effort to have my employees feel valued and respected. I gave them autonomy in their work, and I let them push back if they disagreed with the course of action I had chosen. When there was a problem with someone’s work or attitude, I dealt with it discreetly and sensitively; I never called anyone out in front of a coworker. And when someone had a good day, I made a big deal of it and made sure that everyone else knew about it.

I made sure that we celebrated every employee’s birthday, and we always recognized big events in people’s personal lives. And for a while, I gave a shout out to people for celebrating an anniversary with the firm.

Until one day, when I suggested going out to lunch to celebrate a junior associate’s second anniversary.

And she started crying.…

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I recently talked about law firm names. But it’s not enough just to come up with a good law firm name. You also need to come up with a good law firm domain name. Otherwise, people will have trouble finding you. If you have your own firm, or think you might possibly someday, you need to become master of your domain, and you need to do it now.

When I started practicing in 1994, the Martindale-Hubbell directory was how people found out about your law firm. If you weren’t in there, you weren’t legit. That’s all changed now. If people want to learn about your firm, they either enter in your domain name (or your likely domain name if they don’t already know it), or they use the Google to find your website.

Nowadays, this is often how prospective clients (as well as opposing counsel) get their first impression of you and your firm. If your website looks like it would have been at the cutting edge in 1998 or 2002, you’re already sunk. Firm website design is a topic for a different day. Today we’re just talking about your domain name, because without a good one, you may never get found in the first place.

If you have your own small firm, or think you possibly may someday, read on for eight tips on choosing the right domain name.…

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Over the 13 years I ran Shepherd Law Group, I employed lawyers of varying ages. I had fortysomethings (full disclosure: I’m 43, although I really don’t look a day over 42), I had thirtysomethings, and I had twentysomethings. This last group, the so-called Millennials, were almost a completely different species. For example, in law school, these newbies click-clacked on laptops in the classroom — even during exams. They communicated with law professors using the email. And they had no idea what a mix tape was.

In practice, it turns out that they work differently, too. I remember walking into the office of one of my newer Millennials when she was working on a summary-judgment brief. Her desk looked like the desk of any brief-writing lawyer, with files and cases and books all over it. But what really struck me was her computer desktop. It must have had 20 windows open, many with tabs hiding other screens.

But at least one of the screens was Facebook, and another was an instant-messaging client. I could see that the IM screen was showing an active conversation. Another screen showed Pandora, which was streaming music I didn’t recognize (it was Portishead) at a reasonably low volume.

I was stunned. How could she get the brief done with all these distractions?

So what did I do about it?

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Yesterday was the last day of July, and baseball fans know that this day is important because it’s the trade deadline. (Seamheads and baseball lawyers understand that it’s actually only the nonwaiver-trade deadline, but why take the fun out of it?) So I spent some time this weekend following the interwebs to see whether the Red Sox would do anything to improve their league-leading team (and even better, thwart the Yankees from improving at the same time).

At one point, there were reports that the Red Sox had traded for A’s pitcher Rich Harden. But the Sox scuttled the deal once they learned that the oft-injured Harden had a hospital bracelet tattooed on his arm to save time. (They ended up acquiring left-handed pitcher Erik Bedard, who is injured slightly less often than Harden.)

But as I was watching the annual trade-deadline special on the New England Sports Network after Sunday’s game (apparently, I have no life), I saw a laptop commercial that only a law firm could appreciate.

Whose ad it was and why it made me think of the sorry state of law-firm marketing, after the jump.…

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I always assumed that my youth (or quasi-youth) would guarantee me superstar status in connection with social media. I am not sure why I thought this, because my first foray into Facebook was a bit of a disaster. I was quite late to the party, joining years after I realized that everyone was doing it. To compensate, I went on a mad dash to accumulate as many friends as possible. I sent out friend requests to people that I had barely known, mistreated, been mistreated by and would not acknowledge if I saw them on the street. I would also accept anyone’s friend request. I recall that about a month after I joined, a man with no common friends sent me a request. His name was “Summertime,” he had no last name, and his picture was him without a shirt and holding what appeared to be an ax. I gladly accepted his request. Looking back, I shudder to think what a social media expert would have concluded was my personal brand based on viewing my profile.

Years later, when I became @ValerieLKatz, I forgot my Facebook failure and assumed that I would be a Twitter phenomenon. I believed, as with Facebook, that the only thing that mattered was to have a lot of tweeps.

So how do you get the tweeps, I wondered?

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A friend of mine is a plaintiff’s lawyer in Boston. We’ve opposed each other on several cases, and our interactions (always on the phone; weirdly, we’ve never met in person) are characterized by good-natured but acerbic jabs. Typically, he would bemoan my clients’ “colossally stupid” behavior. For my part, I would make fun of his firm’s name.

Don’t get me wrong: his firm is one of the most respected plaintiff’s firms in town. But its name follows the classic ego-gratifying law-firm style of putting all the partners’ surnames on the letterhead. With Biglaw firms, this doesn’t matter much, because the name partners tend to be, well, not-so-much alive. And the sheer number of partners at big firms means that ego notwithstanding, most aren’t getting their names on the sign.

But small firms have (by definition) fewer partners — with just as much ego. And they tend to be living. So the firm names are long and subject to frequent change.

Why is this a problem for small firms, and what they should do about it?

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Twenty years ago this September, I started law school not knowing anyone there. More importantly, no one there knew me.

Now, mind you, this was at Boston College Law School, where such things aren’t really emphasized. I mean, it’s not like at that school across the Charles, where people like the Winklevii both wear and file suits. At BC Law, which (at least back then) prided itself on being a kinder, gentler law school, it wasn’t really about who you knew, or who knew you. (Yes, one of those whos should really be a whom, but only someone at Harvard would actually say it that way.)

Still, it’s nice to have people know who are you are, and it’s a useful skill to develop for after school, when you need to know how to market your services as a lawyer.

So three weeks after school started, almost everyone knew my name. You see, I had a secret weapon.…

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July is turning into a cushy month for me in ATL Land (not a real place; more of a state of mind). The first Monday of the month was the Fourth, meaning a much-appreciated day off for my colleagues and me. Then there’s this post today, which is nearly half done and I haven’t even said anything yet. Then I’m off for two weeks on vacation, and back the last week of the month. Two more posts and another month in the books. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. (Yeah, I don’t know what that means either.)

Good thing I don’t get paid by the post. Wait, what? Really? Huh. OK, apparently I do. I’ll try and make this one count then.

It occurs to me as I pack for two weeks off that vacation is a difficult issue for small-firm lawyers. It’s easier at Biglaw: You get your four weeks a year, and there are armies of other lawyers to cover for you while you’re away. (Actually, that’s only half true; many big firm lawyers struggle to take all of their allotted time.) But in small firms, it’s much harder to take vacation or to get adequate coverage while you’re away.

It took me some time, but I finally figured out how to do it. Here then are my vacation-related tips for small firm lawyers, including the most important thing you can do to protect your vacation time….

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Ever see Fight Club? Yeah, me neither. The 1999 Brad Pitt movie was more of a cult film than a commercial success, although it did make back its costs. But the movie did have a line that became something of a meme, and was once recognized by Premiere magazine as the 27th greatest line in movie history (which seems dubious, but whatever):

The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.

If only lawyers had the same rule.

You see, being a lawyer is like being a member of an elite club. OK, maybe not as elite as we like to think; there are more than a million members in the US. But elite enough. And the problem is, too many of us are dying to show off to others that we’re members of law club. And one of the ways we do it is by trying to sound like a lawyer when we speak, and especially when we write. This is a problem because sounding like a lawyer is the same as sounding like a tool.

I’ve come up with 20 lawyerisms that do nothing to advance the message you’re trying to send, but instead show that you’re a member of law club. And that you sound like a tool.

How many of the 20 do you use?

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The other day, Staci wrote about dress codes at some of the large firms. Specifically, Quinn Emanuel made some noise by putting out a minimalist dress code, requiring only shoes “because our insurance company requires them!” (Yes, it’s their exclamation point.) This was in stark contrast to other Biglaw dress codes, like the paternalistic one at Jones Day. (I, for one, applaud the Quinn Emanuel approach.)

But what about at small firms? Unlike their Biglaw counterparts, most small firms don’t have written policy manuals and spelled-out dress codes. On the one hand, this can be good; I believe that employees tend to be happier when their lives at work are not hyperlegislated. (See, for example, my takes on sick leave and bereavement leave.)

But the flip side is that small-firm lawyers are often at sea over what to wear. Sometimes, people need a little guidance.

So what should the dress code be at your small firm?

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