San Francisco

Tom Wallerstein

For some, the phrase “small law firm” implies certain stereotyped practice areas, clients, and attorneys. At its worst, the stereotype invokes unsophisticated clients and matters that are routine and uninteresting. I doubt the stereotype is wholly true anywhere. I know for sure it isn’t true in San Francisco or Silicon Valley.

I know many attorneys in small firms who have specialized, high-end practices. These specialized practices are often called boutiques, and they are perfectly suited to serve the entrepreneurial, high-tech client base that abounds in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Even in the down economy, a number of new ventures were launched in Silicon Valley. Geographically, the high-tech corridor also seems to be expanding, thanks to Twitter, Zynga, SalesForce.com, and the like setting up shop in San Francisco. You don’t even need a Visa or traditional office space to launch a startup anymore; now you can enjoy Peter Thiel’s “Visa-free entrepreneurship and technology incubator on an ocean vessel in international waters.”

It remains to be seen whether we’re experiencing a boom or just another bubble, but I guess it doesn’t matter anyway. I’m not an economist and I’m not making predictions. I am only remarking on some great practice opportunities for smaller law firms which exist here, maybe because we are fortunate to have so many imaginative, passionate, and savvy entrepreneurs working on exciting projects in so many different industries….

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Sorry folks, no relation.

Hi everybody! I’m Chris Danzig. You might have seen me around Above The Law over the past year, covering technology and West Coast legal news. As of today, I’m excited to be the site’s newest full-time editor, joining David Lat, Elie Mystal, and Staci Zaretsky.

I’m a journalist by trade, not a lawyer. I’ve spent too much time writing about the law — and the stressful situations that can arise within the legal profession, which sometimes drive lawyers to drink — to ever want to practice.

I went to journalism school at Northwestern University. I helped investigate a wrongful conviction case with the Medill Innocence Project while I was in school. After graduation, I was the assistant editor at InsideCounsel magazine in Chicago, where I covered legal technology.

I left that job about two years ago, and have worked as a full-time freelance reporter since then. I’ve written for a variety of publications, covering health care, music, social justice, and a bunch of other stuff. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I was born and raised.

Keep reading for more personal trivia about yours truly (and to see the photo of myself that Lat asked me to provide)….

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John B. Quinn, founding partner of Quinn Emanuel, is one of our favorites here at Above the Law. We like people who have personality.

We also like people who are so rich they just don’t give a f**k. Quinn seems to have gotten to the point where he can legitimately start a Twitter account called “rich people problems.”

We have evidence of his tribulations from the the San Francisco reception desk of Quinn Emanuel….

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These days, mentioning the California city of Oakland conjures up images of tear gas and violence. It’s not a place that people associate with innocent fun right now.

But Oakland isn’t all protesters and police. We bring you a report from a recent visitor to that city, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit….

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Brian Smith no longer has to wear a suit to work.

A few weeks ago, I was drinking an Old Cuban with my roommate at my favorite bar, Grand Tavern. We were sitting on the back patio, when a group of men across from us started talking loudly about Above the Law. My ears perked up, and I began wondering if I might overhear something like this or this.

Fortunately for the gentlemen across the bar, I didn’t hear anything scandalous. Fortunately for me, I did hear them mention Brian Smith, a former associate at Nixon Peabody, who opened the doors to his new business, Huckleberry Bicycles, last Friday in San Francisco.

I met up with Smith last week, and we spoke about how he became a part of our growing club of lawyers not practicing law….

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* According to Jacoby & Myers, “winning is everything.” And by “winning,” they, of course, mean “settling.” Ten points to Gryffindor Jay Shepherd. [New York Times]

* Ah, DOMA. Like it or not, we’re footing the bill for a law the DOJ won’t touch. This guy wants us to stop putting money in Paul Clement’s pockets. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Cooley Law has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint over its employment statistics. Reasoning? BLAME THE ABA. [National Law Journal]

* “You are a beautiful grave — dead inside.” Be still my heart. What kind of a girl wouldn’t appreciate a love letter like this? A former tax attorney from Winston & Strawn, apparently. [New York Post]

* What happened at yesterday’s hearing on public nudity in the Bay Area? Soon the only buns you’ll see at restaurants in San Francisco will be on the table. [San Francisco Chronicle]

Nobody ever seems to believe me when I say this, but San Francisco gets chilly. It is cold most of the time. And foggy. The warmest time of year is right now, in late October. If you come to visit in July, and you stay in the city, and you will get cold.

That’s why every San Francisco tourist ever buys those cheesy sweatshirts with “San Francisco” written on them in a font that strangely resembles one of the main logos for our hugely disappointing championship-winning major-league baseball team, the Giants. Actually, it might be exactly the same logo. The baseball team is currently in a trademark dispute with the clothing company from Hayward (Oakland’s smaller, crappier neighbor to the south) over rights to the logo.

But hold on, the Giants have been using it for almost 20 years. They must have gotten the rights locked down years ago, right? Oopsies….

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Anytime my lawyer friends talk shop, my divorce lawyer friend always has the most interesting stories. A few months ago, a group of us went for happy hour. The conversation turned to a discussion of what we were doing at work. I said that my client was contemplating settlement over his parking lot lawsuit. Everyone yawned. My finance lawyer friend began to talk about securitizing something, but then just stopped talking because she knew her work was even more boring. This trend continued until my divorce lawyer friend talked about a recent trial. The highlights of her story included a lesbian affair and a mail-order bride. We were all rapt.

For that reason, I have wanted to profile a divorce firm for a while. Recently, I was lucky enough to have a conversation with San Francisco family lawyer (I guess they prefer that term) Erik Newton. His firm, Heath Newton LLP, has become a highly regarded boutique law firm that specializes in “Family Building,” “Divorce and Dissolution,” and “Asset Protection”….

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For the next few months, I am working and living in San Francisco. It’s not surprising, but I have met some interesting folks since I moved here. And, I have learned not to sit down on any public space.

It is safe to say to that it is a different world here than in Chicago. This difference, I have learned, is present not only outside of the office, but inside as well. How? No, people do not go to work naked (at least not many). According to several small-firm attorneys, this difference manifests itself in a work culture that stresses healthy competition in a supportive environment.

Let’s examine this difference in a little more detail….

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I rode BART into San Francisco on Monday for dinner. As our train approached the Embarcadero station, the driver came on the intercom.

“We aren’t stopping at this station. Don’t want to drop you in the middle of a protest.”

So my roommate and I got off a block later and backtracked. We encountered a few clumps of would-be protestors wearing Guy Fawkes masks and bandanas. They might have been more intimidating, but many had hipster neck-beards curling out from underneath the masks. Mostly, though, there were a lot of riot police. A lot. Who were mainly just standing around.

The protest was in response to Bay Area Rapid Transit’s recent decision to temporarily turn off cell phone reception in four San Francisco stations, which was in anticipation of another protest, which was in turn a response to a recent police shooting in a San Francisco BART station.

Only in California do we have protests about protests. It’s all very dramatic, but where do law and technology fit in? As is the trend these days, pesky hackers broke into the BART Police Officers Association’s website on Wednesday and released personal information about the men and women who patrol the local subway system.

Read more about the allegedly horrible, no good, very bad policy decision that led to the hack after the jump….

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