Small Firms

There is not nor probably will there ever be a definitive novel or film depicting the law firm experience. Law firm lawyers viewing The Firm or Michael Clayton or Ally McBeal are not going to identify with what they see on the screen. Novels like The Partner Track by Helen Wan or Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman might be the closest thing (affiliate links).

A truly realistic portrayal of that particular white-collar salt mine would surely be too boring for the public. On the other hand, the comments from the ATL Insider Survey (14,000 responses and counting; thanks everyone) constitute a sort of undistilled document of the Biglaw hive mind. So what do we hear from this depressing, inspiring, contradictory chorus of lawyerly voices?

The ATL Insider Survey asks practicing lawyers to evaluate their employer in terms of compensation, training, culture and colleagues, firm morale, and hours. The survey also asks, “What would be useful or interesting for a law student or potential lateral to know about your firm?”

Reading through all the responses to this question, a handful of recurrent themes emerge….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Here’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Our Law Firms”

Tom Wallerstein

A law school friend told me about a deposition he defended in Waco, Texas, where the temperature reached 105 degrees. At the time, my friend Geoff was an associate at a stuffy BigLaw firm, and there was never any doubt that he was required to wear a suit. And especially because the deposition was videotaped, the witness did, too.

Plaintiffs’ counsel was the owner of a smallish firm in Florida and he showed up wearing shorts, sandals and a short-sleeved polo shirt.

When they arrived at the deposition location, Geoff and his witness were dismayed to learn that the air conditioning wasn’t working. As the day progressed, the conference room grew increasingly warm. By late morning, the witness was restless and hot and kept firing glances across the room to the dormant air conditioner. The video was priceless; every answer was punctuated by the witness sweating and mopping his forehead. Geoff told me later that he thought his witness looked like he was lying even when he wasn’t.

Learn the truth about Geoff’s deposition…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “From Biglaw to Boutique: Dress Code”

Like many other Bachelor fans, I devoted approximately 14 hours last night to finding out who Bachelor Ben chose as his future wife. After much soul-searching and a pensive walk through Switzerland, Ben picked Courtney, the model who everyone hated. Indeed, if the boos and glares directed at Courtney during “After The Final Rose” are any indication, America (and maybe Ben) has decided Courtney is a bad fit. Not to mention, all the other Bachelor losers were very open about their hatred for Courtney.

Ben’s path to “true love” is a lesson not just for pathetic women (see, Lindzi, the orange contestant, who missed all the obvious hints that he was not interested and still blabbered on and on about how she found true love before he ditched her), but also for small-firm hiring partners. Here are the top five takeaways….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Size Matters: Bachelor Ben Teaches Small Firms How to Pick a New Hire”


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….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Size Matters: Let’s Implement Five-Day Weekends at Small Firms (Or at Least Respect the Two)”

Thanks to all who participated in the Turkey Day survey. I am happy/jealous to report that an overwhelming 93.2% of small-firm respondents are able to take time off for holidays. And 76.6% do not need to do any work from home during the holidays. Half of survey respondents, however, are still required to check email during the holidays.

So, is it easier to take time off at small law firms than at Biglaw?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Size Matters: Small Firms Rule”

Who doesn’t love Thanksgiving? What is not to love about a holiday that involves eating obscene amounts of food, lounging around, battling people at Black Friday sales, and working a short week? Unless, of course, you are Ted the Turkey.

As holiday season comes into full swing, I am reminded of my lawyer friends who are not able to celebrate because of work obligations. Many of my Biglaw friends lament the fact that they do not get to take time off for vacations or holidays. Is it any easier, however, for small firm attorneys? Indeed, with fewer attorneys, there are fewer people to share the workload. And even smaller matters have deadlines that often fall around the holidays.

If one of the reasons that Biglaw associates consider going to small firms is because of the greater flexibility to take time off for the holidays or vacation, it is my duty to prove (or disprove) this belief. Please take this survey and help us discover whether small firm practice truly means a better work/life balance, at least in this respect. Thanks!

When it comes to networking events, there are two schools of thought. Some say that networking events are a waste of time. Others believe that it is important to go to networking events. I am a proponent of networking events. I do not hold this belief because I think that attending such events will necessarily help you land a client. Frankly, I do not know how that happens.

I do, however, think these events are helpful for young attorneys to make connections with other lawyers who may help them along the path to finding a job or developing and strengthening an area of expertise. To test out this theory, I attended my law school reunion last weekend.

What did I find out? I learned that many of my classmates are married, several had children, and at least three had dramatic makeovers. I also learned that law schools are apparently really keen on getting donations. Oh, and yes, I learned that attending law school reunions is a worthwhile way to network with other attorneys, provided that you follow a few simple steps.

While I believe that reunions are a good networking activity, I am a bit of a disaster when it comes to these events. So, I followed the lead of one of my former classmates who I knew would be a networking pro. And, since I had several pinot grigios that night, I literally followed her lead. Here is what my reunion stalking uncovered….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Size Matters: Reunited and It Feels So Goooooooood”

As you can likely tell, I am fascinated by terminology. I understand the importance of using language to market and promote your firm. I had never thought, however, about the use of terminology within a firm until recently.

The word that inspired this revelation is “project.” Project is used in many ways and with multiple connotations:

(1) “She is my pet project.” This means that “she” is a disaster and needs help. Project is used to demean.

(2) “I am undertaking a house renovation project.” This means that “I” am boring. Project is used literally.

(3) “Do not tell anyone about Project X.” This means those who are a part of Project X are either CIA agents, criminals, or my mother (Project X = Project Val). Project is used mysteriously.

(4) “Hi Val, you are going to be in charge of the data gathering project.” This means that I have a terrible assignment to complete. Project is used insincerely….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Size Matters: Project X”

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….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Size Matters: California Love”

Recently I talked to a fourth-year-associate friend of mine who’d been working at a new small firm for several months. When I asked him how it was going, he said “great” in a way that suggested anything but. So I pressed him for more. The work was fine, he insisted. The clients were fine. His associates were cool. Great, I said. So what was the problem?

Well, he finally let on, there was this partner.

OK, I said. What about this partner?

Well, he said, he’s making my life a living hell. In fact, my friend said, it was so bad, he was thinking of leaving the firm.

What made this partner so horrible?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Small Firms, Big Lawyers: Supervising Partners and Teaching Partners”

Page 1 of 212