Size Matters

According to the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.), small law firms have adopted the mantra: merge or die. Indeed, the number of law firm mergers is staggering. “At least 60 mergers occurred in the U.S. and abroad last year, the highest level since 2008 and a 54% jump from 2010, according to legal-industry consulting firm Altman Weil Inc. Industry experts expect the figure to rise this year.”

Why the up-tick in mergers? The economic downturn has caused a shift when it comes to legal service providers: it is a “seller’s market for the first time in 20 years.” In other words, law firms are not able to raise rates in order to increase profits. So, small firms turn to mergers as a way to increase their revenue and allow them to compete with all-purpose, larger firms. Randall H. Miller, who as managing partner at Denver-based Holme Roberts & Owen LLP helped engineer its acquisition by Bryan Cave, explained that “[l]ittle by little, our ability to service our clients’ needs ha[d] been limited by our smaller size,” which was why he pushed for the merger.

Yet, small firm to large firm mergers are not the answer for all small firms. The article featured several potential problems….

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It seems as if everyone is breaking up these days. Indeed, I was shocked yesterday to learn that Heidi Klum and Seal have separated. I felt blindsided when I heard that Johnny Depp and girlfriend Venessa Paradis were calling it quits after 14 years together. And don’t get me started on Aretha.

In my practice, I have represented many small law firms going through the same fate as my girl Heidi. At some point, loving partners decide they hate each other. One splits off into his own firm and the group goes through a messy “custody” battle for clients, partners, associates, and staff. Are small-firms and Hollywood it-couples all destined for messy break-ups? Is there something that can be done during the formation of the partnership, or at some point during its healthy existence, to prevent such endings?

To find out, I asked two experts on relationships: (i) my grandma, who has been happily married for more than 60 years, and (ii) my divorce lawyer friend, who, through observing the most horrific divorces, has identified key preventative measures. Here are the top five tips for maintaing a healthy partnership — in law and in life — or at least ending one gracefully….

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Maybe it is because I have been reading the comments or my reviews, but lately, I have reevaluated my work history. Five years after graduating from law school, I could be “associate general counsel” at some company, or maybe even “income partner” or “junior partner” at a small law firm. Or, if I worked hard enough and dreamed big enough, I could be a Public Information Director. I, however, am none of those things.

Why not? I have followed most of the generic tips out there. I “do good work.” After a few missteps, I now “dress for the job I want, not the job I have.” I got “five passports, I’m never going to jail.” Oops, maybe that last one was not a career tip. Moving on…

So why am I in career purgatory and my colleague from law school, Jimmy NoBalls, is a partner? (Note: his name has been changed for my amusement). I found the answer in a very well-crafted article on Corporette, Battling Burnout. Tip No. 6 reads as follows:

Whatever you do, at least the very least, fake interest in your current job (as the Men’s Health article also advised). Arrive on time. Be sociable. Look as professional as possible. Smile.

This tip explained everything. The difference between Jimmy and me is not talent, skill, experience, or anything else substantive. No, Jimmy was faking it. I, on the other hand, wear my disdain like a t-shirt (which coincidentally reads, “I work at your cr**py small firm, and all I got was this crummy t-shirt”).

If you want to do well at your job, fake it….

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The other day, I was at dinner with some Biglaw friends. While I prefer to associate only with my small-firm kin, I needed someone to pick up the check. And, I thought I could do some missionary work and convert my friends in to small-firm lawyers (so I could mine them for story ideas, obviously).

Something unexpected happened during dinner. One of my friends asked me why I believe small-firm life is so different from Biglaw. I went through my standard list of reasons: quality of life, money, autonomy, mentoring, etc. I even cited Tom Wallerstein’s Top Ten.

That was where things took an unexpected turn: my friend did not buy it. Indeed, by the end of our dinner he had me questioning my beliefs. Does size matter, I thought? Needless to say, as a woman who has devoted her “career” to writing about small-firm life, this experience shook me to my core.

Let’s see if you can help me make sense of that night….

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Like most of you, I spend my free time trying to come up with a plot idea for Miss Congeniality 3. Indeed, Miss Congeniality and Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous were just not enough. It is hard, however, to mess with perfection.

Having reached the limits of my creativity, I decided to look to actual events (and, of course, small law firm news) to serve as the inspiration for my movie plot. And I found just what I was looking for, thanks to a real-life Miss Congeniality and Mr. Social Security.

Intrigued? Check out photos of a certified hottie, after the break….

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As this is the first week after I made my New Year’s resolution, I can happily report that I am on track. Well, I did eat an entire coffee cake on New Year’s Day which probably did not fit within my new diet plan, but otherwise I am still resolute. Other than getting a hot bod for 2012, I have resolved to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

If I listened to the gospel of Facebook C.O.O. Sheryl Sandberg, I would worry that my resolution may stand in my way of attaining a leadership position. As some of you may recall, last January Sandberg identified “premature work-life balance concerns” as one of the three reasons many women fail to occupy the C-suite. As an example, Sandburg discussed a young woman in her office who was already worrying about how to juggle family, love, and work despite the fact that she was single and childless. (Way to kick a girl when she’s down, huh?) Vivia Chen, writing about Sandberg, agreed that there is an “increasing concern (maybe obsession) about the issue” of work/life balance among female lawyers and law students.

Luckily, I am not making this decision based on my concerns over hypothetical family obligations. No, I am just lazy and do not like to work. And I am not alone….

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I would bet that at least half of you resolved to find a new job in 2012. And, for many, that new job means going out on your own. As with most New Year’s resolutions, however, such a measure may seem overwhelming.

Lucky for you, Carolyn Elefant has updated her book, Solo by Choice: How to Be the Lawyer You Always Wanted to Be (affiliate link). The book provides a thorough road map for lawyers looking to make the leap to solo practice.

Solo By Choice is divided into five parts: (1) The Decision; (2) Planning the Launch; (3) The Practice; (4) Solo Marketing; and (5) Solos in Transition. The sections offer information and advice designed for lawyers at all levels of experience, from new graduate to partner. A large portion of the book discusses new technology and social media. And to bring the message home, Elefant profiles successful solos and provides tips they learned in starting and running their own firms….

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To help me get in the holiday spirit, I’ve been catching up on my favorite movies. Some might prefer It’s A Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street, but I can’t get enough of It’s a Wonderful Lifetime and ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas. Give me a movie where a D-list celebrity overcomes the holiday blues to discover the meaning of Christmas, the joy of love, and the warmth of family, and I am a happy girl.

After 22 days of non-stop Christmas movie watching, I began to think that only in a movie staring Melissa Joan Hart would someone devote her professional career to tackling an issue she had to overcome. Not so.

Earlier this month, Casey Greenfield, known for her personal battle with child support issues, and Scott Labby, a fellow graduate of Yale Law School, formed the firm Greenfield Labby LLP. The firm’s mission is to serve individual clients “with a focus on family and matrimonial practice, strategic planning and crisis management”….

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I trust that after last week’s column, all my small-firm spinsters are well on their way to finding meaningful, romantic relationships with their co-workers (read: New Year’s Eve booty calls). After waking up at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, I realized that I forgot to suggest one guaranteed way to meet your small-firm suitor: the office party.

While Tannebaum may hate the office holiday party, I believe that it is one of the main — if not most important — reasons to work for a small firm. Or, for that matter, to be a law firm lawyer at all. Indeed, I may be drowning in debt come graduation, but at least I will be able to drink cheap boxed wine with a rainmaking partner once a year. It is worth the investment. (Take that, Wall Street Journal.)

As much I love me a holiday party, however, I do believe there are certain rules one must follow. I cannot promise that I observe these rules myself, but as the saying goes, those who cannot do, teach. And with that, here is a guide for how to behave at the office party….

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There are only two weeks remaining before New Year’s Eve. That means that my small-firm singles only have a short window to secure their New Year’s Eve date. And according to our survey, none of you will be working on the holiday, so you better get your act together.

Luckily for you, I am an expert at finding love. If you can believe it, this skill outshines my genius at doling out small-firm advice. And since I write under a pseudonym, none of you know that I am a 46-year-old spinster who has eggs in the freezer. Oh, well I guess you do now, but let’s get on with my tips for a successful small-firm seduction….

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