Small Law Firms

Oh, you’re all running here now. You saw the title. Here you come. Click click click. It’s all you want to know. And by you, I mean those who claim to love Biglaw, but would jump to your own place or a smaller firm in a second if you “could make the same money.”

I know.

I know when you call me, when you come to my office to discuss the “possibility of leaving,” that it’s the only thing on your mind. Sure, you want your name on the door, more freedom, more client contact. But you just have one real question. One real fear. One real concern. One thing you need to convince your better half of before you make “the jump.”

Can I make the same money?

Here’s the answer….

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Rick Perry is so sad.

* Rick Perry’s primary ballot election law suit in Virginia was unsuccessful, but maybe the Fourth Circuit will help him out on appeal. Or not. At least Huntsman’s out of the race, right? [Bloomberg]

* That didn’t take too long. The National Federation of Independent Business has officially popped the cherry on filing lawsuits challenging Obama’s recess appointments. [Businessweek]

* Even if law schools changed their teaching methods to include more experiential learning opportunities, would anyone care? To that, the latest hiring patterns say: “LOL, srsly?” [National Law Journal]

* Joran van der Sloot has been sentenced to 28 years for the murder of Stephany Flores. Parents will now be able to allow their college-aged kids to spend spring break in Aruba until 2038. [CNN]

* Protip for child predators: claiming that you don’t remember pleading guilty will bring you as much success as your career in children’s balloon entertainment and law — not a lot. [Orlando Sentinel]

* The lawyers at this small firm might quality for senior citizen discount specials, but they’re working hard to put their 161 years of experience to good use. P.S. they’re hiring! [New York Times]

Tom Wallerstein

Thanks to everyone who has sent me emails; really, I’m flattered. I promise I will get back to everyone. A lot of people have asked me questions. For example:

“I am currently a third-year law student . . . . I am hoping to eventually open my own firm (sooner rather than later perhaps) as I am willing to suffer the first few years of practice and not making money in hopes that I can recoup that years down the road . . . . I do not feel that my best years should be wasted working for somebody else (my opinion of a firm is that they are useful right out of school to ‘learn the trade’ but outside of that the firm benefits more from an associate than the associate benefits from the firm . . . .”

I’ll answer this one publicly:

If you are in law school and you have the choice between working for an established firm — big or small — or working for yourself/starting your own firm, it’s a no-brainer that you should go with the established firm first. You can always leave the firm to pursue your own practice at any time, but the converse isn’t true: Once you go out on your own you might forever lose opportunities you have as a student.

In any event, I disagree that a firm necessarily benefits from an associate more than an associate benefits from the firm. I’ll stick with the only thing I really know: my own personal experience. I wrote in my first-ever blog post that “none of my limited success would have been possible without my Biglaw experience.” I think there are three reasons this is true for me….

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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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Johnathan Perkins

When it comes to the protagonists of 2011′s biggest legal stories, our readers want to know: Where are they now? Last week, for example, we brought you an update on Casey Anthony, which generated keen interest (and traffic).

The recent alleged misadventures of certain UVA Law School students — students accused of breaking and entering, students accused of bothering bikers (to be fair, some bikers are obnoxious and deserve what they get) — have caused commentators to wonder: Whatever happened to Johnathan Perkins?

Johnathan Perkins was the then-3L at UVA Law who confessed to fabricating a tale of racial harassment by university police. As a result of his dishonesty, did he have to go before UVA’s famously strict Honor Committee? Did he end up getting his law degree? There was some ambiguity over whether he would graduate.

We have an update, based on a statement from the dean of the law school….

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Yeah, I’m back.

And I want to know when lawyers will stop using opportunities to give referrals as a panicked strategy of covering their asses.

You know what I’m talking about — the “three names” idiocy?

Whether you’re on a list-serv and the 27th “I’m looking for an excellent, aggressive, and inexpensive lawyer” request of the day has donned your computer screen, or someone actually thinks you are worthy of a phone call or email requesting a lawyer to save their life or fortune, let’s just agree to stop being wimps and meaninglessly passing along names, and start giving real referrals.

I know, you were taught this. You never give one name. Why? Because what if it doesn’t work out? Then you’re going to have some sort of imagined problem that someone told you could be very, very bad.

And yes, I know, people like choices. You feel like you’re doing them a service by giving them lawyers from which to choose. But you’re not. You’re just uselessly giving out names.

One of the deep, deep dark secrets (shh) of being successful in small-firm world is your ability to be more than just a paper-pushing, time-keeping drone. The ability to be a “connector” is just as — or more — important than your ability to practice your trade. If you are in a niche practice, there are more people who won’t need your services than will, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a reason to call you — like the reason that you are the one person who always gives them the best referrals.

Have you received those emails? “I know you don’t do this work, but you always seem to put me in touch with the best people, so I’m now looking for _______.”

No?

Let me, as usual, help you….

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Tom Wallerstein

When I started my firm, several mentors gave me the same advice: Don’t work for free. It’s easy to see the problem with working for free. Giving away what you’re trying to sell isn’t exactly in the business plan. Unfortunately, this sage advice can only really be learned the hard way, through experience.

Working for free can arise in many different ways. The most obvious example is a client who wants you to represent him but can only promise to pay you later.

Even if your gut tells you that taking on that client is a bad idea, this can be surprisingly tempting to a new firm or solo practice. For starters, there is such a thrill with getting your first client, or your first “real” client, or your first big client, or your first whatever client, that the excitement can cloud your better judgment. You will be tempted to overlook the red flags that you will not be paid for your work….

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Many law firms send out rather lame holiday cards, cards that marketing guru Ross Fishman would describe as “boring pieces of crap.” Thankfully that wasn’t the case for the eleven finalists in our third annual law firm holiday card contest.

Some of these cards were clever, some were beautiful, and some were funny. All of them were excellent, deserving of recognition and praise for the thoughtfulness and creativity that went into them.

Okay, enough with the sentimental and sappy stuff — you’re lawyers, and you’re competitive. You want to know who won….

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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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