Litigation

Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Gaston Kroub of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique here in New York. He’s writing about leaving a Biglaw partnership to start his own firm.

For some reason, while in Biglaw I always seemed to find myself working late in the office on Christmas Eve. Whether it was getting deposition notices out, or making sure that a brief would be ready for filing right after the turn of the year, there were always more billable hours to crank out (even in those years when I had already made it into the next bonus category as an associate, and was not one of those people volunteering for an end-of-year document review in order to make my hours). Particularly as an associate, the end-of-year was usually a peaceful time, as partners left for their year-end vacations, and normally compressed litigation schedules slackened a bit.

In many ways, Christmas Eve was always one of the most peaceful days of the year in Biglaw. For starters, many of the attorneys and a good percentage of the staff were usually out. And those who showed up for work started to trickle out immediately after lunchtime, with a mass exodus around the time of office closing, usually around 3 p.m. I always enjoyed the four or five hours afterwards immensely, where the normal hustle and bustle of the office got replaced by a more serene atmosphere. I was never one to stay in the office unnecessarily, so when I would finish whatever needed to get done, I too would leave. But there was usually at least one project that needed seeing through, and Christmas Eve afforded the luxury of focusing on getting one thing wrapped up without the usual workplace distractions….

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Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Gaston Kroub of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique here in New York. He’s writing about leaving a Biglaw partnership to start his own firm.

When you work in Biglaw, you are pretty much assured you will have a nice office to go to everyday. Of course, you are also expected to spend the vast majority of your waking hours in that office, particularly as an associate.

My personal Biglaw experience when it came to offices was probably the norm. When I started at Greenberg Traurig, the IP department was located just above some of Bernie Madoff’s offices in the Lipstick Building on Third Avenue in Manhattan. A few years in, we joined the rest of the firm within the MetLife (former Pan Am) Building right over Grand Central. In the summers, and after the partners I worked with relocated more frequently depending on our case load, I would spend time working out of Greenberg’s New Jersey office. While not Manhattan, that office had nice suburban views and was easily accessible off the highway. And when I lateraled to Locke Lord, I got to enjoy a very easy commute from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan, and some beautiful views from my office of the Hudson River and New York Harbor.

Biglaw does office space right. In some respects, though, that is changing….

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Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending the New York holiday party of Susman Godfrey, one of the nation’s most impressive — and most feared — litigation boutiques. The mood was celebratory (and not just because of the delicious food, provided by celebrated chef Daniel Boulud, and free-flowing drink).

The associates I spoke with — who all enjoy their own private offices, no small perk in the New York law firm world — exhibited a great esprit de corps. Unlike so many other associates I meet, they seemed genuinely glad to be at their firm and enthusiastic about their work.

The fact that bonuses were just around the corner surely helped. We’ve covered Susman Godfrey’s generous bonuses in the past, and they never disappoint.

I recently chatted with founding partner Stephen Susman about what he described as his firm’s “unique approach” to bonuses. Here’s what we discussed — including how big his firm’s bonuses are this year….

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Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Gaston Kroub of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique here in New York. He’ll be writing about leaving a Biglaw partnership to start his own firm.

This is a position I never thought I would be in. I am sure my partners feel the same way. If someone would have told me last Thanksgiving that within a year I would, together with two of my colleagues, give notice at my firm to start an IP boutique, I would have laughed. After all, Biglaw was all I knew, starting with my first full-time position as a first-year associate at Greenberg Traurig over a decade (and well over twenty thousand billable hours or so) ago. Leaving Biglaw to start my own boutique? I had honestly never given it a thought before this year.

Now that I am a whole week into the experience, I am happy to report that I have never been more excited for the next stage of my professional career. Even though I no longer have a large office with a view of the Statue of Liberty (and actually am working from home as we negotiate for space), there is something sweet about trying to build a business on my own terms, working together with partners that I have come to value and trust. After all, they had the courage to make the leap as well. While the decision was not an easy one, it already feels like the right one.

A little bit of background about me….

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Is thirteen an unlucky number? Apparently not at Quinn Emanuel, the high-powered litigation firm that just went for a baker’s dozen in naming new partners.

This past weekend, the Quinn partnership gathered in California for their partner retreat. Agenda items included selecting new partners and setting the bonus scale.

Does a large partner class bode well for bonuses? Because this is the biggest partner class Quinn has named in several years….

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How do you deal with a difficult client?

Don’t be ridiculous: I’m not a difficult client! You’re a difficult lawyer!

I’m pretty busy. So how many drafts of your brief do you think I want to review?

One, reflecting your very best work? Or six, with each version fixing a typo or massaging the language in footnote three, so that I can see your next iteration?

When do you think I want to see your draft?

The morning it’s due, so that I won’t have a chance even to read the thing and, if I manage to read it, you won’t have time to make corrections? Or three days before it’s due, so we have time to make the brief right?

Do you think I want to circle all the typos and cite-checking errors in the draft you send to me? Believe me, I do not want to do this. But I can’t help myself: I spent two years entombed in the sub-basement of the library at The University of Michigan cite-checking articles and imprinting the Bluebook on my brain. I’d be delighted not to notice your errors, but I don’t have that capacity. This stuff is hard-wired into my very core.

How about your run-on sentences, use of the passive voice, and other grammatical and stylistic errors?

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In an era when “disruption” is celebrated, the world of large law firms is one of the last redoubts of conventional wisdom. For a uniquely rule- and precedent-bound profession, this makes sense. Biglaw’s conventional wisdom has the added virtue of being reliable. For example, we can count on Cravath taking the lead — at least chronologically — on bonuses, and for DLA Piper to have the most random Third developing-world offices.

Another reflection of conventional wisdom is the way in which Biglaw lends itself to — and revels in — superlatives and rankings. There tends to be a generally acknowledged and perennially dominant player (or a few) in most practice areas: Wachtell Lipton for M&A, Weil Gotshal for Chapter 11 work, Patton Boggs for lobbying, and so forth. There’s no doubt that many worthy firms get overlooked.

Last year we took a look at which firms’ practice groups were considered “underrated” by peers in the field. Among the notable 2012 nominees: Cahill for corporate law, Arnold & Porter in litigation, and Proskauer for its bankruptcy and tax practices.

We wondered whether the same practice groups were still considered by practitioners to be unfairly underrated. Or are there other firms deserving more recognition?

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Ed. note: This is a new column from a person who didn’t just go from Biglaw to a smaller office, he went from big bad New York City to someplace where they care about the Big Ten network. It’s a different client roster and a different life.

As promised, the topic of this column is the difference in client service when you move to a smaller regional firm. First things first: I see from the comments on my last article that many of you are curious about the clients I represent here in Real America. Apparently it is very hard for some of you to believe that the types of clients that you have on the coasts also exist here in the Midwest. Believe it or not, we have banks! We have real estate investment trusts! We have life-science companies! We have parts manufacturers for any number of industries! We have mortgage servicers! We have large retailers with labor and HR issues!

And because these things exist, they need help from attorneys like us….

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This coming Friday, it is the inalienable right of all Americans to sleep off their hangovers, or riot at Walmart, or do anything at all rather than work for The Man. But Biglaw is a different country. As illustrated by Elie’s decision matrix, the “choice” of whether to work on this sacred day is, for the denizens of the law firm world, fraught with other pressures and expectations. We all know that Biglaw careers demand a Faustian bargain: in return for their fat paychecks (and bonuses?), lawyers are expected to work grueling, unpredictable hours. This time of year, that reality is brought into sharp relief: the “holiday season,” with those “family obligations” and so forth, is something that occurs elsewhere.

But law firm billable expectations are not homogeneous. There are significant differences across practice areas, seniority levels, and, of course, individual firms. So how do the various practices, employment statuses, and firms stack up?

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When we sit down at Thanksgiving this year, we’ll give thanks for Weil Gotshal. Over the past few months, the highly prestigious and profitable firm has generated a cornucopia of tasty news to cover.

And the drama isn’t over yet. Instead, the soap opera continues.

Soap operas feature ups as well as downs; they’re not all bad news (because that would be boring). Births and marriages balance out deaths and divorces.

So for today’s Weil Gotshal update, we’ll start with the happy stuff — new partners! — before moving on to the gloomier news….

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