Practice Pointers

Tom Wallerstein

I try to approach new relationships without an express agenda. In my experience, business has always come from relationships indirectly, and unexpectedly. Looking back at my firm’s engagements with 20/20 hindsight, it is undeniable that positive relationships led to the work. But that was impossible to predict looking forward.

For example, lunch with a casual acquaintance became a friendship and led to a very lucrative engagement when he later developed a conflict. I could not have predicted at the time how the lunch would later lead to important business.

In fact, had I approached the lunch with a strict agenda, I never would have formed the friendship or subsequent business. Instead of meeting with the goal of developing business, I met with the goal of having a nice lunch. It is a well-known irony that sometimes it is easier to get something when you stop trying so hard…

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Tom Wallerstein

Whether you are a partner or associate, working in Biglaw or in a boutique, the key to success is developing a book of business. And the key to developing business is to focus instead on developing a book of relationships. As I wrote before, “business is an engagement, a lawsuit, a transaction; it is measured in money. A relationship is a connection with a human being. A book of business is virtually impossible for an associate to build. A book of relationships is available to first year associates and partners alike.” No matter how good a lawyer you may be, people still want to do business with people they know and like on a personal level…

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First, some random thoughts on the legal news of the week:

1) Who gives two ***** if gay folks get married? Or have the same rights as you and me? My goodness, if two people want to get married, God Bless them! And it is a civil rights issue; being told that you can’t have information on your partner’s hospital stay because of HIPAA is downright medieval. The pastor whose YouTube speech went viral after reading from anti-desegregation literature and turning it into an anti-gay marriage diatribe was probably the most brilliant argument in defense of gay marriage. Twenty years from now we’ll be saying: “Gay marriage? Meh, it’s really those damned ______ that we have to watch out for…” Hey, it’s America, **** yeah!!, every group gets a turn at being the downtrodden.

2) Don’t get me started on North Dakota’s draconian steps with regard to a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body. Now see, it’s Holy Week and I probably can’t take communion.

3) This DLA Piper billing debacle? Makes me sick, and is a perfect segue into finishing my column from last week. I know I know, DLA came out and said, “Heh heh, we were just kidding. Those guys aren’t even around here anymore. Overbilling? Meh. Never happened, we promise.” What did you expect them to say?

I happen to know personally one of those mentioned in the story, and he was just as much a dim bulb back then, so it is no surprise that he wrote that stuff in an email. That he moved on to a partnership at another firm is no surprise either. I will say that he is infamous for leaving one of the funniest and most outrageous drunk emails voicemails on a colleague’s phone early one morning. And he probably can’t figure out who he is from this blind item in any event. But, I digress, back to overbilling…

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Tom Wallerstein

A long-distance friend of mine recently emailed me this question:

“I’m interviewing with a small boutique firm that just opened. They actually have a lot in common with your firm in that they have two partners who were at a big firm and left so they could do their own thing. I was wondering if there’s anything that jumps out at you as something you look for in job candidates for your firm that might not have been as important if you were interviewing them for a position in Biglaw?”

I thought that was a great question, and insightful, because there are indeed some very important differences between interviewing with a small firm or boutique and interviewing for an associate position in Biglaw.

This is what I told her.

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It is common knowledge around ATL that I am a huge proponent of the Association of Corporate Counsel (“ACC”). I have served on their boards, presented at their seminars and annual meetings, and generally participated as much as my time allows. Now, truthfully, this amount of participation has gotten me to Orlando, Los Angeles and New Orleans; all absolutely necessary trips, I swear. But there is another side to ACC than just fantastically run and organized events and parties, and that other side is advocacy on the part of business, and specifically in-house business.

Lat sent me a press release this week focused on an amicus letter that ACC sent to the S.D.N.Y. regarding the plaintiffs’ attorney fees request in In re Citigroup Securities Litigation, Case No. 1:07-cv-09901-SHS. After reading the letter and doing some research on my own, I came to the conclusion (yet again) that I have missed the boat by not practicing plaintiff-side law. These folks are asking with straight faces for what seem to be exorbitant and outrageous fees. Specific to this post and the ACC letter, they argue that contract attorney time (such attorneys normally make modest hourly wages) should be calculated at Biglaw associate hourly rates in order for the judge to arrive at a fee award. To put on my elite intellectual vocabulary hat for a moment, this is crazy talk…

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Tom Wallerstein

When I graduated from law school, one of the perceived benefits of working in Biglaw was job security. This manifested itself in various ways.

First, firms rarely, if ever, conducted true “layoffs;” i.e., reductions in force based more on outside economic factors than qualitative assessments of the affected employees. The rate of hiring either accelerated or slowed, but rarely reversed.

The “no layoff” tradition was to some extent rooted in a genteel culture, but more directly based on pure economics. Most Biglaw firms had more available work than they could handle at any given time. If work slowed, partners nonetheless were confident that it would pick back up…

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Talking Heads was a teensy bit before my time, but some of you know the above lyric. I came into my own with music right around “Burning Down the House.” It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I started to appreciate the world of music instead of my world of music. Living in New York City at the time of Dinkins showed me just enough rough trade to appreciate what New York was like in the 70s. Today, clubs like CBGBs and Wetlands are but mere memories for those of us with enough memory remaining. If you want a taste of “old” New York, I recommend watching “Dog Day Afternoon,” or even “Do the Right Thing.”

These days it’s almost embarrassing to walk through Times Square with its Disney-fied atmosphere. I am all for safety when walking the streets of Manhattan, but velvet ropes outside of my old dive bars in now gentrified neighborhoods make me long for the days when the City had some edge. Some of you may not believe this, but Bryant Park was once avoided like the plague after a certain hour. There used to be a bar guide put out by some enterprising young men, and my then-girlfriend — now wife of 20 years — once highlighted the names of the watering holes we had visited. When we realized we had been in fully 70% of the bars in the book, we knew it might be time for a change.

The 70% part is absolutely true, but the real reason we left Manhattan was that she got into school in Boston and my acting career was at a standstill…

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Tom Wallerstein

I recently attended a reception for prospective students who had been admitted to the University of Pennsylvania Law School. It was a great event which was graciously hosted by superstar Penn Law alum John Wilson of Shearman & Sterling.

I’m a huge fan of Penn Law for too many reasons to list here, and I tried to convey some of my enthusiasm to the prospective students. (Had I known at the time, I would have included Penn’s distinguishing and commendable compliance with ABA transparency standards.)

I remember when I had attended the admitted students reception prior to committing, way back in 1996. At that reception I met then-Dean Colin Diver, who asked me what other schools I was considering. I told him, and added that I had not yet heard back from Stanford, my top choice…

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When my first son was born we happened to live next door to one of the cameramen for Law and Order. The original Law and Order, not “Law and Order: Poughkeepsie” or whatever.

Anyway, if you live or practice in New York City you have undoubtedly run into an active L&O set, as they film exterior shots on location as much as possible for more realism. One of the sets happened to be down the road from our house and David invited me, my wife, and son to visit. I will always remember the great Jerry Orbach and Jesse Martin being completely unassuming nice guys as they cooed over my little boy. It was a real treat.

The point to this anecdote is that I overheard someone say that a small table immediately behind me needed to be moved a few inches before the next shot. As I reached down to slide the table, David sharply whispered to me not to touch it, as “it was a union job” and one of “them” had to move the piece. I had to laugh, as it was foreign to me that someone had a designated job of table-moving. But, as I moved through Biglaw, I became aware that the same mindset applied to associates as well as partners – unless there was money to be made from a new matter, then a Labor partner could transform into a Patent partner in the blink of an eye….

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Some of you might be old enough to recall the “comedian” from the mid-80’s who went by the moniker of Yahoo Serious. He had a nominal hit movie and his career died out soon after. He even tried to collect from Yahoo! for trademark infringement — yeah. Anyway, when learning the news of Marissa Miller’s recent edict (she’s the one with a nursery in her office) that Yahoo!’s telecommuting is about to end, my initial thought was, are they serious?

Now, I don’t know Tom Wallerstein — I know for sure I am no Tom Wallerstein in the writing department — but I will take on this issue of working from home, and its benefits.

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