Although clients are a law firm’s raison d’être, believe it or not, having a roster of clients on opening day isn’t indispensable to, or even a predictor of a firm’s future success. Many lawyers — whether they are new graduates, or seasoned government attorneys, or moms re-entering the work force, or low level associates and non-equity partners unceremoniously and unexpectedly given the boot — launch law firms without a single client to their name and do quite well, thank you very much.
Still, wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier to start a law firm with one or two clients already locked in? Not necessarily….
Ed. note: This post is sponsored by NexFirm. At NexFirm, we see dozens of new firms launch each year, and we seem to bond with both the people and the practice every time around. Their accomplishments feel like our success, and their disappointments, our failures. It makes for a great professional relationship, but it can also be painful when we see them repeat the same, predictable, new firm mistakes — especially ones that can be avoided with some guidance and forethought.
Attorneys who are launching their own firms tend to wring their hands over every small decision and miss the big picture. You feel overwhelmed, so you want to work feverishly to tackle your to-do list. After a long day full of “doing” without much “thinking,” you feel like you’ve really accomplished something. It’s an easy trap to fall into. It’s crucial to be thoughtful about the big things, set time aside to think about them, and treat them like the other action items on your list.
Start with these, the low hanging (albeit important) fruit:
1. Leave, Don’t Quit.
Focused on the unpleasant task of giving notice, worrying that you might piss someone off or — worse yet — be impeded from transitioning matters, you can easily miss the best marketing opportunity you will ever get. Use your resignation to ask your employer to give you business. Beg them, guilt them, scare them, do whatever you need to do, but make it happen. There is no one that knows you and your work better. If you can’t convince them to help you, in at least some small way, you are in trouble…
Let me start my inaugural column here at Above the Law with a question: Why not start your own law firm?
To be clear, I’m not directing this question at those of you who are gainfully employed in a legal job, however tenuous or intolerable. Over the course of this column, I’ll discuss whether and in what circumstances it makes sense to jump ship — but for now, I’ll assume that your risk aversion is reasonable.
Likewise, my question isn’t targeted at those of you who have no choice but to work at menial jobs just to survive and simply don’t have the time or energy to get a firm off the ground. Again, there are ways that you can make starting a firm work, but it may take a lot more effort than you have to give.
No — for now, I’m just asking those of you who really have no choice. For example, if you graduated from law school more than a year ago and you’ve been sending out résumés constantly and haven’t had a nibble. Or those of you who have had a doc review job here and there, but nothing steady — but at the same time, you’re fortunate enough to have a spouse or partner or family who can at least cover your living expenses while you get a firm off the ground. Or maybe you’re more experienced — perhaps your law firm pushed you out as you were nearing 65 and you’re not ready or can’t afford to stop working yet, but nothing else has presented itself.
In these kinds of back-against-the-wall, nowhere-to-go-but-leave-the-law-entirely cases, is the horror or shame of starting a law firm worse than being unemployed or junking your JD?
When you’re a real litigator — at a firm, in the trenches, arguing stuff and getting your hands dirty — you see and hear the coolest things.
So I’m sharing a couple of litigation war stories with you today, and soliciting you to share others in the comments.
I’m in the California Court of Appeal in San Francisco. My case is third or fourth on the calendar, so I’m watching the arguments before mine. In the first case, the appellant had been convicted of a bunch of gruesome crimes. It was hard to tell without having read the briefs, but the litany plainly included rape, murder, and the desecration of a corpse. Defense counsel had not exactly lucked out in the selection of an appellate panel: He was arguing to three female judges, all of whom had formerly been prosecutors.
For reasons not entirely clear, counsel was trying to reverse the conviction for desecration of a corpse. He insisted that no evidence supported the verdict, because there was no evidence (I kid you not) that the defendant had jammed the stones inside the victim after she had died. As one of several arguments, counsel tried an appeal to reason. He asked the (seemingly) rhetorical question: “But why would my client have shoved rocks inside the body after she was dead?”
The question wasn’t so rhetorical, after all. One of the judges leaned forward incredulously and asked, with a snarl: “Excuse me, but . . .
But as it turns out, as reflected in our traffic stats and in various messages sent directly to us, people actually want to learn about methods for staying (or looking) busy while they put in their law-firm face time. Does this mean work is slow? All these unused billable hours don’t bode well for bonus expectations this year.
Anyway, here you go: 7 more ways to kill time while working at a law firm….
Historically, the elite Biglaw firms derived safety and security from the knowledge that they could depend on big fees from large institutional clients. After all, where would the big dogs feel confident sending their legal work if not to a giant, white-shoe firm, with a complete support staff and the cream of the law school graduating crop? It encouraged behemoth firms and no small amount of complacency.
No one doubts that we’ve entered a new normal and that Growth Is Dead (affiliate link), but a new study confirms that there’s even more bad news for the top Biglaw firms: GCs simply don’t want them any more…
Ed. note: This is the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories, brought to you by Lateral Link. This recurring feature will give notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.
Jay Edelson is the founder and managing partner of Edelson LLC, a national consumer class action firm. Edelson LLC focuses on consumer technology, privacy, and banking litigation, and has secured settlements valued at over $1 billion in the last five years. Jay also serves as an adjunct professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, where he teaches class actions and negotiations. The American Bar Association has called him one of the “most creative minds in the legal profession” for his views on associate training and firm management.
1. What is the greatest challenge to the legal industry over the next 5 years?
It’s one of the things that separates professionals, who exhibit the essence of a professional, from those who are in a profession, but have the reputation of “being all over the place.” This can be the result of having a practice where organization takes a back seat to being busy, or having a life where there’s just too much going on – too many cases, as well as too many committees, too many networking events, too much going on at home – no ability to cut out the things that need to be cut.
There is that phrase that “it doesn’t matter what happens to you, but how you react.” In other words, life either happens to you, or you control it to the best of your ability. As you go through life, especially as a lawyer, saying “yes” becomes routine. “Yes” I’ll take that case pro bono, “yes” I’ll help organize that CLE, “yes” I’ll serve in a leadership position, “yes” I’ll coach Little League. There are only so many hours in a day, yet we as lawyers are routinely finding ourselves overcommitted to both professional and community endeavors. We’ll say “no” next time, or resign from that committee in a few months….
Tied up in the office? You might as well make the most of it.
As the old saying goes, time is money. And in the land of law firms, where the billable hour is king, the saying is literally true. The pressure to churn that bill, baby rack up thousands and thousands of hours is one of the toughest aspects of legal practice. It drives lawyers towards drink and away from their families. (See reasons #7 and #8 of the 10 Reasons To Leave Biglaw.)
But what if you have the opposite problem? In some ways, not having enough in terms of billable hours is worse than having too much. If you’re billing, say, 75 hours a month as an associate, you could find yourself in the breadline before too long. (Partners have more leeway, but even they are hungry for hours nowadays.)
If you’re stuck in the office with nothing to do — and this applies not just to lawyers but to support staff, who are getting laid off partly because there’s not enough for them to do — how should you pass the hours? Here are seven suggestions….
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….
The holiday season is upon us, and yet again, you have no idea what to get for the fickle lawyer in your life. We’re here to help. Even if your bonus check hasn’t arrived yet, any one of the gifts we’ve highlighted here could be a worthy substitute until your employer decides to make it rain.
We’ve got an eclectic selection for you to choose from, so settle in by that stack of documents yet to be reviewed and dig in…
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
We currently have a very exciting and rare type of in-house opening in China at one of the world’s leading internet and social media companies. Our client is looking for an IP Transactional / TMT / Licensing attorney with 2 to 6 years experience. The new hire will be based in Shenzhen or Shanghai. Mandarin is not required (deal documentation will be in English) but is preferred. A solid reason to be in China and a commitment to that market is required of course. This new hire will likely be US qualified (but could also be qualified in UK or other jurisdictions) and with experience and training at a top law firm’s IP transactional / TMT practice and could be currently at a law firm or in-house. Qualified candidates currently Asia based, Europe based or US based will be considered. The new hire’s supervisors in this technology transactions in-house team are very well regarded US trained IP transactional lawyers, with substantial experience at Silicon Valley firms. The culture and atmosphere in this in-house group and the company in general is entrepreneurial, team oriented, and the work is cutting edge, even for a cutting edge industry. The upside of being in an important strategic in-house position in this fast growing and world leading internet company is of the “sky is the limit” variety. Its a very exciting place to be in China for a rising IP transactional lawyer in our opinion, for many reasons beyond the basic info we can share here in this ad / post. This is a special A+ opportunity.
If your firm is in ‘go’ mode when it comes to recruiting lateral partners with loyal clients, then take this quiz to see how well you measure up. Keep track of your ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses.
1. Does your firm have a clearly defined strategy of practice groups that are priorities of growth for your office? Nothing gets done by random chance, but with a clear vision for the future. Identify the top practice areas for which you wish to add lateral partners. Seek input from practice group leaders and get specifics on needs, outcomes, and ideal target profiles.
2. In addition to clarifying your firm’s growth strategy, are you still open to the hire of a partner outside of your plan? I’ve made several placements that fit this category. The partner’s practice was not within the strategic growth plan of my client, but once the two parties started talking with each other, we all saw how it could indeed be a seamless fit. Be open to “Opportunistic Hires.” You never know where your next producing partner might come from, so you have to be open to it. I will be the first to admit that there is a quirky element of randomness in recruiting.
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