Small Law Firms

Whether you practice in Biglaw or a boutique, knowing how to email is a critical skill. In fact, the quality of a lawyer’s emails are among the best indicators of their future career prospects, excepting those fortunate to be born with a guaranteed multimillion-dollar book of business through family connections. That should not be a surprise, considering how email is the single most used form of communication for lawyers. Yes, technology has liberated us from a full day’s work (with the help of a secretary) in order to prepare what would now be considered a routine client communication in the form of a fancy letter. But the need for a similar level of care in preparing today’s written communications has not changed. Show me an associate’s emails, and I (along with other former or current Biglaw partners) will have a very respectable success rate in guessing whether or not they are partnership material, even in the absence of other information about the author.

I have sent many thousands of emails in my legal career. I do not even know how many of them would even have been considered “good” emails. I’d like to think that most of them were. I was fortunate, since I worked for a partner who stressed to me early on the importance of sending “good” emails.

What is a “good” email?

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Stacy Slotnick aka The Foxy Jurist

In a Huffington Post op-ed, Redefining the Female Lawyer’s Uniform, Stacy Slotnick, an entertainment lawyer and founder of the Foxy Jurist, argues that lawyers should add some color to their courtroom arguments. Literally.

Slotnick isn’t talking about injecting imagery into an opening statement or pounding on the witness box to punctuate an argument or adopting a dramatic whisper to attract the jury’s attention. Instead, Slotnick implores female lawyers to cast aside their bland Gray Lady and Black Widow personas and embrace the hot pink of Legally Blonde. Or as Helen Reddy might sing, women lawyers should go from I am Woman, Hear Me Bore to I am Woman, Hear Me Roar!

Slotnick has some colorful words for colorless dressers:

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Keith Lee

It has often been observed that litigation is war. The analogy is not perfect, but studying military strategy and tactics can prove fruitful for litigators. While many people often turn to Sun Tzu’s Art of War, for guidance in the applicability of military thought to modern business and litigation, I have a soft spot for von Clausewitz’s Vom Kriege (affiliate links).

Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz (July 1, 1780 – November 16, 1831) was a Prussian soldier and military theorist who stressed the “moral” (in modern terms, psychological) and political aspects of war. His most notable work, Vom Kriege (On War), was unfinished at his death.

While all of Vom Kriege is worth your time, I wanted to highlight one passage in particular…

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Bruce Stachenfeld

“Low overhead is great!” That is one of our sayings. We recite it all the time — yes, even out loud at meetings — as it is a powerful competitive advantage for a law firm. It seems pretty obvious, but if so, why doesn’t everyone get with this concept?

There is a term informally used to describe how overhead impacts a law firm called “Implied Overhead.” The “Implied Overhead” of a law firm is the cost of everything except the lawyers divided by the number of lawyers. So if you have 50 lawyers and the cost of “everything” except the lawyers is $10,000,000, then you have implied overhead of $200,000 per lawyer.

Our Implied Overhead for last year was about $165,000. Anecdotally I believe that Implied Overhead for major law firms averages about $300,000. (I admit I don’t really have this data for sure; it is just what I have heard.) If your firm has 100 lawyers and implied overhead of $200,000 and the average for major law firms is $300,000, then you have a $100,000 per lawyer competitive advantage over your major law firm competition. Multiply that by 100 lawyers and you just made $10,000,000! And this flows right to the bottom line! If there are, say, 30 partners at this firm, then each partner just got a check for $333,333!

Yikes — did I do that math right? Was that $333,333 per partner merely by reducing the implied overhead?  I just double checked and $10,000,000 divided by 30 partners does indeed equal $333,333. That’s a sizable number, so maybe you should read the rest of my article….

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As some of you may already know, my goal with this column is to encourage lawyers to use technology in their law firms. I do this by featuring innovative solo and small-firm lawyers who are already using new technologies in their day-to-day practices.

In today’s column you will meet Rick Georges, a solo practitioner based in Florida who handles civil cases, both general practice and litigation matters. He also maintains a popular legal technology blog, Future Lawyer, where he discusses about emerging technologies and their use in the practice of law.

In recent months, Rick has written about how he uses a smartwatch in his practice, a concept that intrigues me, since wearable technology is the next stage of mobile computing and will undoubtedly influence the practice of law. I recently caught up with Rick and asked him to share how he uses his smartwatch on a daily basis and how he envisions using it in the future as the technology improves.

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Juan Monteverde and Alexandra Marchuk

Marchuk v. Faruqi & Faruqi, the high-profile sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Alexandra Marchuk against her former firm and one of its most prominent partners, Juan Monteverde, rolls on. Back in January, we covered some of the salacious revelations contained in the summary judgment papers.

You know what would be even more juicy? A trial.

And that’s what we might be getting, in the wake of two blows just dealt to the defendants in this matter….

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The traditional arguments against going to law school are: (1) there are too many lawyers and not enough jobs; (2) tuition and student loan debts are too damn high; (3) the high-paying or high-powered jobs are available only to the top students of the top schools; and (4) most “JD Advantage” jobs could have been obtained without a law degree.

The typical response to the above is something along the lines of, “That won’t apply to be because I’m going to put in the work and be one of the top students.” Now those of us who lived through law school might find this amusing and even ridiculous. But we can’t really blame them for their determination. We were their age once. Back then, the world was a playground and full of opportunities. If 0Ls today know all of the risks and can obtain a decent scholarship at least for the 1L year, then they should take a shot and see where they fall on the bell curve.

Today, I am going to talk about a few issues regarding law school and law practice that have not been discussed (at least extensively) amongst the law school critics. The issues apply to most students (even the top students) of almost every law school….

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When portraying lawyers, television tends to stay away from the horrors of Biglaw. The good versus evil of the criminal justice system tends to get more play; there is more inherent drama when freedom is on the line (and who can resist the ubiquitous chung CHUNG). If any other types of lawyers are represented, it skews toward do-gooders making emotional pleas in court as champion of the underdog or smarmy corporate lawyers finding the loopholes for the rich. But the hard-working cogs that actually make the legal industry churn along go unrecognized.

So what happens when a network sitcom tries to take on Biglaw?

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If you need it, build it. We needed help. And we saw an opportunity. So we took action, and now have another business as a result. I’ll explain. The need was simple. Because of our work with investors interested in understanding how patent litigation events impact on their investments, we found ourselves needing to monitor many active patent cases, in addition to the cases we were litigating ourselves. At one point, we considered hiring an intern to help with this specific task, at least during the trading day. But we quickly realized that solving this problem required a software-based solution. So we set out to build one. We looked for something available that would do the job, and failed to find anything useful.

Thanks in no small measure to the talent of our programmer, what we built worked. We were able to get automated alerts of new docket entries and opinions directly to our email. And we could do so for multiple cases, alleviating the concern that we would miss an important opinion. Because our clients tend to have sizable investments, there is a premium placed on our ability to let them know of litigation events quickly and to interpret those events for them, so that they could protect their positions or initiate new ones, based on the recently released publicly available information. As a fail-safe, we began having the alerts sent directly to subscribers of our consulting services. And now we have decided to offer it publicly (www.litigationalpha.com) to fellow lawyers, retail investors, and whoever else can benefit from automated alerts generated based off District Courts docket entries and opinions….

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Listen to Bill Alverson and this tiara could be yours.

Small-firm lawyer Bill Alverson doesn’t show up on the first page of Google if you search for “lawyer in Andalusia, Alabama,” where Alverson’s firm is based. Which might be a problem for a lawyer relying on Google to generate clients.  After all, Andalusia has a population of only 9,078, so if you can’t make it onto the first page of Google there, can you make it anywhere?

But Alverson needn’t worry because his law practice isn’t an all-encompassing jealous mistress. Instead, Alverson has another kind of mistress on the side of his day job at his small father/son firm, Alverson & Alverson — dozens of them, really. As noted in this past weekend’s New York Times magazine (and today’s Quote of the Day), aspiring beauty queens retain Alverson to coach them to victory at state and national pageants.

Turns out, working with statutes and the statuesque have more in common than one might think….

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