Small Law Firms

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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Roland Davenport

There aren’t that many really good Santas.

Roland Davenport, a Michigan solo practitioner, commenting on the sad state of Santa Claus couture during the holiday season. Davenport, who attended what he calls “the Harvard of Santa Claus schools,” has been dressing up as Santa and performing at holiday parties for the past eight years.

Davenport’s real, white beard and $750 red suit are considered prestigious by the competition, and his Santa retainer reflects it.

After stealing all the Whoville toys, the Grinch planned to re-gift them to his army of lawyers.

I’m much more likely to throw away a gift or give it to charity than to regift something I already have or don’t want. I think I’d live in fear of the original gift-giver meeting up with the regift recipient and talking about how I was a bad friend for orchestrating the whole mess. I’d rather those two people meet up and say, “Did Elie get you anything? No? Too bad. I was hoping he did and you could tell him it sucked. That’s what he told me when he opened my present.” There’s something intangibly sneaky and dishonest about regifting. It’s just not classy.

Of course, people do it all the time. And not because they lack class so much as they lack money. Even if it’s tacky, regifting usually comes from a good place: you want to give presents to more people than you can afford to shop for.

But there’s nothing laudable (or forgivable) about how one small law firm in California goes about re-gifting. They want to send gifts to their clients — so they commandeer the gifts sent to their secretaries and staff, and regift them.

I think this firm missed the “spirit” part of this holiday season….

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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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Even attorneys are signing up.

Since time immemorial (or at least since the advent of computers), PCs have ruled the law office technology world. As iPhones and iPads have become more popular, Apple products have begun encroaching on the PC’s long-standing dominance of the workplace.

But who would’ve thought that Apple would actually be taking over, even in the technophobic realm of law?

A new legal survey shows just how much attorneys love their Macs. Let’s look at the results, and maybe find some gift ideas for the holidays….

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Edward Hayes (on The Charlie Rose Show)

What draws people to the practice of law? Some do it for the paycheck, some do it for the prestige, and some do it for the excitement and fun of it all.

Veteran New York litigator Edward Hayes belongs firmly in the final camp. Although he has amassed fame and fortune over almost four decades of practicing law, his legal career reflects a quest for adventure.

And what adventures Hayes has had. After graduating from the University of Virginia and Columbia Law School, he joined the Bronx District Attorney’s office, where he prosecuted homicides (which there was no shortage of in the Bronx in the 1970s). He then launched his own practice, handling civil and criminal matters for such clients as the estate of Andy Warhol, notorious “Mafia cop” Stephen Caracappa, acclaimed architect Daniel Libeskind, actor Robert De Niro, celebrity editrices Anna Wintour and Tina Brown, billionaire publisher Si Newhouse, and then-paramours Sean Combs and Jennifer Lopez (after they were arrested together back in 1999).

Eddie Hayes has even found his way into literature. He served as the basis for Tommy Killian, Sherman McCoy’s defense lawyer in Tom Wolfe’s great novel, Bonfire of the Vanities. Wolfe dedicated the book to Hayes, a close friend of his for many years.

This past summer, I enjoyed the privilege of spending a day with Ed Hayes. We met up at Penn Station and took the train out to his vacation home in Bellport, Long Island, where we enjoyed a leisurely lunch, dining outdoors and overlooking the water. (There are Lawyerly Lairs-style photos of his house, after the jump.)

During our time together, Hayes reminisced about his extraordinary life in the law, offered career advice for fellow lawyers, and showed me how to properly prepare a caprese salad….

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'Who needs cash? We have these nifty red hats!'

Over the weekend, I had dinner with a friend of mine who used to work as a paralegal at a small law firm. She told me about how one year, for the holidays, all the lawyers chipped in to get her a gift certificate to a spa, so she could get herself a massage.

I said it sounded like a nice gesture. This was not the reaction my friend was going for in telling the story; she viewed the gift as an insult. Her view: Christmastime is the time to show me the money.

I can understand that perspective for secretaries or administrative assistants. As we’ve discussed before, if you’re an attorney you should give your secretary a holiday gift that’s either cash or a cash equivalent (like an AmEx or Visa gift card). As a legal secretary once told us, “if you decide on giving gift certificates [to specific stores], I sincerely hope your next bonus will be paid in the same currency.”

But paralegals, at least at large firms — my friend who got the massage certificate worked at a small firm — are a trickier proposition. Over the course of a year in Biglaw, a lawyer might work with many different paralegals, on a wide range of matters. Are you expected to give gifts to all of them?

So what should a lawyer do with respect to holiday gifts for paralegals? And, of course, what’s the “going rate” for holiday gifts for secretaries in 2011?

Let’s conduct some reader polls, and open up the comments for discussion….

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Nicki Bajaj and Nicki Minaj

Somebody please tell him who the eff I is
I am Nicki [Bajaj], I mack them dudes up
Back coupes up, and chuck the deuce up.

(I have no idea what “macking … dudes up” involves. I just hope it’s legal in the state of Illinois.)

Is Reema Bajaj, the attractive solo practitioner accused of practicing more than law, trying to capitalize on the fame of Nicki Minaj, the rapper-singer-songwriter behind such hits as Super Bass (quoted supra)? It seems that Bajaj, the comely young Illinois lawyer who’s going to trial in March 2012 on prostitution charges, has rebranded herself as “Nicki Bajaj.”

Let’s hear from a tipster, and check out the exciting new website of Reema — er, Nicki — Bajaj….

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If you’re a lawyer, and some of you that read this are, you know it’s time to start trying to convince yourself that you’re going to do wonderful things “next year.”

Advice is readily available on the internet about the proper way to set goals, but as usual, I am here to help you ignore all of that. No reason to go to websites like mindtools.com that begin with a clear shot at Biglaw by stating: Many people feel as if they’re adrift in the world. They work hard, but they don’t seem to get anywhere worthwhile.

So mean.

Anyway, here is my surefire way to have a great 2012 as a lawyer….

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Tom Wallerstein

I was talking to a friend who is a junior partner in a large firm, and who is thinking of starting her own firm. She knew what practice area she would focus on, and she had at least one client who she felt sure would go with her. But she still had two critical questions to resolve. First, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to open a solo practice, or if she would try to recruit someone to form a partnership. Second, she wasn’t sure if she would form a “virtual” office, or try to start a traditional “brick and mortar” shop.

With regard to her “solo versus group” decision, we talked about the differences in tax treatment, liability exposure, etc. But I offered her my opinion that another important consideration is the practical, day-to-day differences between running your own shop and being in a partnership….

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