Practice Pointers

It’s so hard to judge yourself.

Deep in your soul you know that people who criticize you are idiots, and people who praise you are wise and sagacious.

How can you possibly tell if you’re any good at what you do?

I have the answer for you! I’ve created a litigators’ self-assessment test! Now you’ll know if you’re any good!

Here’s how it works: Take out the last brief you filed.

Do it. Now. You won’t learn anything if you don’t follow the rules.

Look at the first sentence of your brief. For about ten percent of the people reading this column, the first sentence of your brief says (and I quote) . . . .

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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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For lawyers considering solo practice who are married or otherwise paired up, your partner can play a significant role in determining the future success — or failure — of your firm.  Yet the role of a solo’s “silent partner” is rarely acknowledged or discussed. Here are some of the ways that a spouse, domestic partner or significant other can help make or break a solo practice.

First, the positives. Most obviously, a gainfully employed spouse can provide financial support to help get your practice off the ground.   Even if your spouse’s income doesn’t cover start-up costs like fancy office space or state-of-the-art computers, not having to worry about health insurance or a place to live while starting out will spare you from the financial pressures that force many new solos into poor choices (like accepting an unsavory client or dipping into the trust account).

Still, while your spouse’s or partner’s ability to cover family living expenses can provide some breathing room for new solos, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be living on easy street. For example, if you have substantial student loans that your spouse’s income doesn’t cover, you’ll still have to hustle to earn enough to make repayment if you’ve taken a deferral.  And if you were employed prior to starting your law firm and your lifestyle reflected your dual-income status, you’ll still have to scramble for a couple of years to attain the same earnings level that you enjoyed at your earlier position….

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Ed. note: This post is sponsored by NexFirm.

So you’ve decided to make the jump. Persuaded by the 10 reasons to leave Biglaw, and aware of the 10 common mistakes made by lawyers who launch their own firms, you have decided to hang your shingle.

What can you expect in your first few years running your own law firm? Here are 10 things that might surprise you….

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Partners versus associates in Biglaw. I am not referring to the annual end-of-summer softball game. This is more serious. Many groups are flat or slow. Even though associates leave firms and get replaced very slowly, or not at all, and even though incoming associate classes have shrunk, Biglaw firms make every effort to keep associates as busy as possible. For one, associates are expensive, with their high salaries and real benefits packages. Plus, it is always easy to generate some make-work for them, particularly when there are not as many around as there used to be.

These efforts are surely welcomed by associates, but at what cost to the firm’s other timekeeping employees — the partners? Does the fact that a partner “got elected,” has the title, signed a partnership agreement, and has money (either their own or a friendly bank’s) in the firm’s capital account mean that he or she should have first dibs on all available work? Put another way, do I have the right to insist that a fellow partner assign me work rather than an associate? Do I need to make sure my fellow partners are all fully busy before I assign some of my hard-earned client matters to them? Assuming that the clients do not care about who services a particular matter (e.g., it is a new client who only cares about the price and not who is providing the service), these are very difficult questions. Unfortunately for many in Biglaw today, they are also timely….

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Last week, I wrote about face time considerations for associates. In Biglaw, face time is important for partners as well, albeit in a different way, with a significant exception for “pure” service partners.

Service partners are like associates when it comes to face time, with one major difference. In contrast to the often large constituency that associates need to please, your typical service partner needs to focus more exclusively on the specific rainmakers who provide them their work. That is why you will frequently find a service partner who is dependent on a particular rainmaker trailing that rainmaker around the office like a faithful Lab trailing a treat-bearing little kid. Or never leaving until the rainmaker leaves for the day. Vacations? Either timed to the rainmaker’s vacation, or planned with the idea that one would be perfectly accessible should the rainmaker call. Most of the time, this behavior by service partners happens naturally. When you have limited sources of work, it is folly not to stay close by those sources on a constant basis.

As important as face time is for senior and mid-level partners, it is even more important for junior partners….

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I see you all enjoyed your vacations. I saw the 175 pictures you posted on Facebook of every single place you went, and now I see you “can’t believe your baby is starting 7th grade.” So now that it’s time to get back to work and figure out what to do about all those clients calling you as a result of seeing you on the first page of Google, I will again offer you life-changing advice for which you come here weekly.

This advice is all real, and in no particular order.

1. If you have an office, or even a desk, take every single thing off the top. I did this the other day. Clean it, and then place everything back, except the stack of papers that belong in a file or the garbage, the magazines and articles you’re never going to read, and the items that do nothing but take up otherwise workable space. This will cost you no money, take about 15-20 minutes, and you will thank me. Well, not all of you…

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I’m closing in on 250 columns at Above the Law, devoting many of them to mistakes that I’ve recently witnessed (or heard about) (or, I should say to protect the privilege, simply ginned up out of whole cloth).

Remarkably, I’ve not yet written about an obvious error that occurs regularly: If you say that you will communicate with someone on a certain date, communicate with the person on that date.

Period.

Think for a minute about how often people screw this up, both in-house and at law firms.

In-house, some crisis arises. You take the helm. You send an email to the relevant folks in the organization saying, “I’ll get to the bottom of this, and you’ll know the answer by the close of business my time tonight.”

The close of business comes and goes, and what happens?

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Kamala Harris

* The Poly Prep alumni who settled their sex abuse suit against the school are going after O’Melveny & Myers for allegedly playing a part in prolonging the litigation by doing what lawyers do best: lying. [Am Law Daily]

* If you’ve got a case up on appeal and you’re like a virgin, giving oral (arguments) for the very first time, then you should probably consider taking a look at the top 10 tips that’ll help you to prepare for it. [The Recorder]

* The California Supreme Court denied petitions from Proposition 8 proponents seeking to enforce a ban on same-sex marriage across the state. Kamala Harris, the country’s best looking AG, approves. [BuzzFeed]

* The Chapman School of Law will change its name after receiving the second-largest donation ever made to a law school. N.B. The donor isn’t a law school graduate, which certainly explains why he has cash to spare. [National Law Journal]

* Notebooks from the most famous law school you’ve never heard of are now on digital display thanks to Harvard Law. Unlike today’s students, Litchfield lawyers had lovely handwriting. [Brainiac / Boston Globe]

* Keep ya head up: Legendary lawyer Roger Rosen, whose clients range from O.J. Simpson to Phil Spector, will hang up his shingle to avoid prosecution for leaking info to Tupac’s killers. [New York Post]

* Just think, if the judge in Paula Deen’s case had permitted counsel to stay discovery, perhaps the celebrity chef wouldn’t have been able to serve up a slice of her piping hot racism casserole. [Daily Report]

* Sure, Lamar Odom allegedly cheated on Khloe Kardashian with a lawyer, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to get divorced. If they do, we’ll be there for the train wreck. [Ministry of Gossip / Los Angeles Times]

Shave, get dressed, grab your gadgets (firm-issued Blackberry, personal phone, tablet, etc.,) and head out the door. Car, train, ferry, subway — whatever it takes to get you to the office. Log into your computer, connect your phone for a charge, and head down the hall for a cup of coffee from the pantry. Throw out “good morning” as you pass people along the way. Grab your coffee, sneak a look at the vending machine, decide against starting your day with an 800-calorie cinnamon-glazed “bun,” and head back to your office. Dive into your morning inbox triage, and hope no one bothers you until your first conference call in 30 minutes. Congratulations on making it in for your next day in Biglaw’s Class A splendor.

Eight to fourteen hours later (depending on your seniority, amount of work, and level of domestic tranquility), it is time to pack up. To do it again the next day. You may not be happy with how things are going for you career-wise, and you may get jealous when your tech-sector friends brag about their 5:30 p.m. “after-work” pedicure and pastis-tasting session, but at least you were present at work for the day.

Face time is a concept that has gotten more media attention than it probably deserves. But let’s give it a little more….

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