A small law-firm bonus, or a small-law-firm bonus?
While Biglaw types may or may not have had something to be thankful for over the holiday weekend, many small firm lawyers were feeling the Thanksgiving love via the SoloSez list serve.
There were numerous magnanimous emails coming through about what small firm lawyers are thankful for. I found myself wondering whether these warm-and-fuzzy feelings resulted from pure happiness — or whether they might reflect cold hard cash, in the form of small-firm bonuses.
So let’s gather some data about bonuses at small law firms….
While bonuses are burning up the comments here at Above the Law, there’s another discussion raging over at the ABA’s SoloSez Listserv — where solo and small firm lawyers from around the country share resources, practice tips and the occasional anecdote.
Claiming the debt load for the average ASU grad has increased by $40,000 since she applied, the 3L is “reaching out to the online community to help [her] pay for it.” Good choice, since everyone knows that bloggers are just rolling in cash.
Given its entrepreneurial nature, this seems right up the small firm alley. But the plan has been received quite poorly by a majority of practitioners.
More about the sponsorship, what she’s willing to do for it, and the identity of the student, after the break…
Brick and mortar is so last century. Nowadays, one can get an entire post-secondary education without ever leaving the comfort of home, including a law degree (no I’m not talking about Belmont) and an LLM. Then, with your degrees and fully developed agoraphobia in hand, you can move seamlessly into a fully virtual law practice and stay in your sweatpants all day — well, depending on what state you’re in.
From a reader:
Earlier this year, the NJ [Advisory Committee on Ethics] held that having a virtual office is not a bona-fide office within the meaning of the NJ Rules of Professional Conduct. This adds another significant cost to setting up your own shop since you have to rent a place all the time, not just for meetings. . . . I am not sure whether NJ is unique in this regard, but the decision seems wrong and anti-competitive to me and it is the smallest of firms which are the most likely to be effected by the rule.
New Jersey is not unique in this regard, but it is among a dying breed. Recently, its Delaware River neighbor issued an opinion that many small firm lawyers hope is yet another nail in the coffin of physical office constraints….
America is often called the “Land of Opportunity.” To many, that means cashing in on one’s education, ideas and talent as soon as possible. The corollary is that we frequently assume that folks who aren’t rich are only so positioned because they failed at all their attempts to become rich. After all, actually turning down a guaranteed payday out of altruism (or at least perceived altruism) is a rare enough occurrence that it’s often deemed eminently newsworthy. See, e.g., Tim Tebow, Michael Bloomberg, and my personal favorite, Pat Tillman.
Here at Above the Law, life is frequently viewed through a similar lens. Discussions of small firms start with the presumption that non-Biglaw types are so situated because they didn’t have the chops to make it in Biglaw. See, e.g., almost every comment to any post I’ve written for this site. We assume that “going small” — especially right out of school — is the last resort of a destitute, loan-burdened graduate who B-minus-ed his or her way through three years of law school. Students “end up” in a solo practice; they don’t strive for it.
Thus, when a law student wrote to tell me that she and two of her friends are spurning Biglaw in favor of starting their own firm, I thought, “Now, there’s a story worth telling.” They’ve graciously agreed to let me tell their story here….
In the good old days, an aspiring lawyer could just read the law under the tutelage of an existing member of the bar. Then, around the beginning of the twentieth century, the ABA and AALS teamed up to begin requiring that wannabe lawyers graduate from law school as a barrier to entry. This was, I presume, mostly a barrier to entry, which I also presume actually worked at some point.
Fast-forward about ninety years to 1992, when the ABA finally figured out that they’d created a mess, formed a task force, and issued a long-winded report, to which law schools responded by creating more “real world” credit options for students. Well, it’s almost 2011, and the process still isn’t working.
Newly minted lawyers are, for the most part, still woefully unprepared to actually practice law. Enter the recession, and now we have thousands of graduates a year, some of whom are attempting to simultaneously solve their unemployment issues and bridge the chasm between legal theory and legal practice by opening their own practices right out of law school.
As an aside, I was amused that one of the ABA articles I found mentioned Harvard’s efforts at reform as including the requirement that first-year students “take courses in legislation, international law, and problem solving in addition to more traditional classes.” Gee, thanks Harvard.
Any person who ever thought it would be noble to be a lawyer remembers the classic scene from To Kill A Mockingbird where poor Mr. Cunningham goes to pay Atticus Finch for his legal services:
Mr. Cunningham: Mr. Finch, I don’t know when I’ll ever be able to pay you. Atticus: Let that be the least of your worries, Walter.
Cunningham pays Atticus with what he can from his farm (I remember vegetables and eggs, the internet says hickory nuts and stove wood). It’s a moving scene. As many have remarked over time, Atticus Finch represents the best of the legal profession. Hang on, I’ve got something in my eye.
Of course, Atticus is a complete legal fiction. The overwhelming majority of attorneys expect to be paid in cold cash (or hot sexual favors).
So the story I’m about to tell you is going to be shocking. A lawyer in Colorado accepted a fur pelt in exchange for legal work…
To borrow a line from Sharon Nichols, I judge you when you have a poor website.
Like it or not, we live in a superficial world where your website is judged on a daily basis — and not just by me. Friends, colleagues, potential employees and most importantly potentially paying clients are all looking at you — watching, judging.
Of course, there’s the old adage that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but do you know why that’s an old adage? Because we all judge books by their cover, and by “book” I mean “your law firm.” But fear not, you of the static, monochromatic firm website that still lists now-departed associates. Your salvation lies in the hands of your beloved managing editor, David Lat — at least partially….
I’ve been appropriately chastised for writing this column from behind the protective wall of a pseudonym. Readers want to know who’s talking to them. As a reader, I get that.
To the extent I did not get it, the point that was made very clear in the comments to my inaugural post:
It’s hard to take seriously anyone who hides behind a pseudonym. Your description of your bona fides leaves a lot to be desired. Why are you afraid to reveal your name, your law school, and your current and past employers? How are we to know whether you have any special insights into the practice of law at a small firm such that we would be interested in reading a twice weekly column?
By way of response: I agree. I agree. Not afraid – just wanted to be cautious (I’m still a lawyer by training after all) given that I’d never done anything like this before (commence the “yeah, we can tell” comments) and I had no idea how long the column would last. Good point.
Okay, so you’re not socially inept. I’d offer my congratulations, but being socially adept and willing to mingle is only part of the battle for a small firm attorney. It’s a necessary but not sufficient component of long-term success. (Remember all that necessary/sufficient crap from the LSAT? Yeah, me neither. It doesn’t matter.)
What does matter is that you find a way to deploy whatever level of social skill that you have. Even Bobby Boucher figured that out. You have to find something to fill in this blank:
Step One: Be a reasonably competent lawyer who’s not socially inept.
Step Two: ??
Step Three: Profit.
So what’s the meat in the Step Sandwich here? I’ll share some of my own experiences, along with some insightful comments from the readers….
A recent study by economists at UC Berkeley gives employers a nice argument for keeping salaries a secret. Well, luckily for you, I’m not your employer. Therefore I have no qualms about sharing with you Part 2 of the results from our small-firm salary survey.
In your emails following Part 1, many of you asked that I take the practice experience element of the survey and show how it correlates to salary. Good point. I actually had that in mind from the start, but ended up pushing it into my Part 2 draft when I decided to split up the post.
But you don’t care; you just want the numbers. So, with the final caveat that I’m sure I’ll never be able to fully satiate your salary hunger, here’s the latest snack…
We currently have a number of active openings for associate roles at US and UK firms in HK / China, Singapore and two new in-house openings. As always, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org in order to get details of current openings in Asia, as well as to discuss the Asia markets in general and what we expect for openings later this year. Our Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney will be in Beijing the week of March 25 and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong the week of April 1, if you would like to meet them in person.
The US associate openings we have in law firms are in the usual areas of M&A, cap markets, FCPA / white collar litigation, finance, and project finance. The most urgent of our top tier (top 15 US or magic circle) law firm openings in Asia (among many other firm openings that we have in Asia) are as follows:
• 2nd to 5th year mandarin fluent M&A associates needed in Beijing and Hong Kong at several firms;
• Korean fluent 2nd to 4th year cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 5th year Japanese fluent M&A associates needed in Tokyo;
• 4th to 6th year mandarin fluent cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 4th year M&A / cap markets mix associate needed in Singapore.
In a land that is right here and in a time that is right now, a technology has arisen so powerful that it can replace basic human document review. Is it time to bow down before our new robot overlords?
First, here’s a little story about me: my life in the legal world began as a paralegal. My first case was a GIANT patent infringement case that was already six years old and had involved as many as five companies, multiple US courts, the ITC and an international standards committee. I knew nothing about any of this.
On my first day, my supervisor (a paralegal with at least eight other cases driving her crazy) sat me down in front of a Concordance database with a 100,000+ patents and patent file histories. “Code these,” she said. I learned that “coding”, for the purposes of this exercise, meant manually typing the inventor’s name, the title of the patent, the assignee, the file date, and other objective data for each document. I worked on that project – and only that project – for at least the first six months of my job. After a week or so, time began to blur.
What I know, in retrospect and with absolutely certainty, is that as time began to blur, so did my judgment. So did my attention to detail. If you could tell me that I did not make at least one mistake a day – one inconsistent spelling, one reversed day and month, one incorrectly spaced title – I frankly would need to see your evidence. I would not believe it. The human mind is trainable but it is not a machine.
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