Small Law Firms

Last week I wrote a story asking the question, “How important is it for law schools to teach students about electronic discovery?” The post stemmed from a perturbed tipster, who lamented the fact that her alma mater had decided to offer a class exclusively dealing with the subject.

The poll results were interesting. Most of you said the subject is definitely worth learning in school, despite its alleged unsexiness.

Additionally, I received an letter a few days after the story ran, signed by 14 attorneys, including small firm and Biglaw partners, tech company leaders, and one state judge, who wanted to give their collective opinion on the issue.

Technophiles will appreciate the note, although some young lawyers might find it an ominous sign of document review work to come. Let’s take a look at what these decision-making readers had to say…

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Tom Wallerstein

Everyone knows the expression “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” The proverb claims that whatever we don’t have always seems more attractive than what we do have.

If the proverb were true, then we might expect that Biglaw associates would pine to work as solos or in small firm boutiques. But do they really?

It’s no secret that many lawyers are miserable. Some people like Will Meyerhofer have made careers out of trying to reassemble the shattered psyches of victims of Biglaw excesses. But as miserable as an associate’s life might sometimes be, I’ve rarely heard attorneys wistfully musing what it would be like to practice on the other side of the fence, so to speak. Nor do many solo or small firm attorneys often say they wish they worked in Biglaw.

I can’t help but chuckle at the self-rationalizing that seems to overwhelm so many attorneys. Many of them are so cocksure of their career paths and so defensive when challenged, you have to wonder if they doth protest too much. And indeed, although I’m not a shrink, I do have my theories as to why lawyers especially seem prone to criticizing other lawyers whose career paths are different than their own….

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At the end of last week, I wrote about an interesting campaign video for Jim Foley, an attorney running for a state judge position in Olympia, Washington. At first I wasn’t sure what I thought about it — was it ridiculous, or awesome, or both? But the longer the video’s rap hook stays in my head, the more sure I am of how great it is.

So, imagine our pleasant surprise here at ATL when we got an email over the weekend from Jim Foley himself. He provided a couple of interesting details about his campaign ad: who’s the mysterious rapping woman? Who were the boys sharing his delicious stew? What exactly are the lyrics to the song?

Keep reading to learn all this and more…

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So yeah, Dewey is history. Everyone and his mother has written about what the bankruptcy of the “storied” law firm means. According to Kent Zimmermann, a legal consultant at the Zeughauser Group, Dewey could represent one of the first dominos. “Dewey’s failure is rocking the industry in the sense that most firms are saying to themselves, if Dewey could go down, could we?”

And for most firms, the answer is yes. After all, Dewey cited the economic downturn and massive partner compensation arrangements as the root causes for the firm’s collapse. Those causes are common to many large firms. Surely we have all seen the images of those sweet pads in Lawyerly Lairs. Reading those tea leaves, it is clear that Armageddon is a comin’ (or a stayin’, if you consider the other Biglaw firms that have folded).

Dewey’s fate is sad. Well, at least for Dewey and for other large firms. It might be good news for others, however. And, no I do not mean the other Biglaw firms who got to score them some Dewey rainmakers….

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If you’re trying to build a word-of-mouth-based referral practice (is anyone doing that anymore?), you may be frustrated with two things about some of your referral sources: they don’t appear to know what it is you do, and they don’t make a real effort to get you the case/client.

Let’s talk about the bad referrals first.

We’ve all been there. The call comes in, the client was referred by a familiar name, and he wants to hire you to do something you don’t do or don’t want to do. Maybe you’re a divorce lawyer but don’t want to handle child custody modifications, or you’re a commercial litigator who has said many times that you don’t do collections work.

If you’re getting the wrong referrals, it’s your fault…

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Ed. note: Please welcome Eric Turkewitz, a new small law firm columnist at Above the Law. His bio appears after the jump.

For the new ATL readers, let me introduce myself here in my first column. OK, screw that, I know you don’t really give a damn about me, so let’s jump to the meat and potatoes…

You all know that Dewey & LeBoeuf, filing for bankruptcy liquidation yesterday, is the largest law firm ever to go bust. And that means a ton of people are now out of work, either scrambling to hitch their wagons to new firms or looking to start their own practices.

Because having your own firm is, to many, the Holy Grail of a law practice. Sure, some like the consistent fat paycheck, but the ranks of lawyers are filled with Type-A personalities who fantasize about practicing law the way they want to do it, not the way some other Type-A knucklehead has been telling them to do it.

There are only about a gazillion things to think about: office space, support staff, technology, and money to keep you going, to name a few. But today’s topic will be self-promotion and social media. And I don’t mean this in a good way, as in here’s how to go out and be famous on Twitter. No, no, a thousand times no. Instead I’d like to warn you about them, and help you save your soul.

You’re welcome. Pull up a chair, and let’s review some of the more dreadful attorney marketing over the years. We’ll start in the toilet….

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Adam “Bulletproof” Reposa is an attorney in Austin, Texas. Editor emeritus Kashmir Hill covered his, how shall we say, unorthodox activities quite a bit a few years ago.

Most notably, he was held in contempt for making a “simulated masturbatory gesture” at a judge with whom he disagreed.

There is a new video out featuring Reposa. It’s hilarious. The video is quite subtle. But I think the main message is if you stand in his way in court, he will run you over with his pickup truck….

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Last month, we solicited law school success stories from you, our readers. We’re often quite critical of law schools around these parts. So, to even out the scales a bit, we’re going to be running a series of happy stories, focused on graduates who are glad they went to law school.

We’ve tried to organize the success stories under a few broad themes, to lend some structure to the discussion. Some of the themes exist in tension with each other, and not all themes will apply to all readers. By the time the series is done, however, we hope that the stories will collectively shed some light on the question of whether one should go to law school.

Let’s launch into our first collection of law school success stories. They could be grouped under the theme of “go cheap, or go home”….

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Tom Wallerstein

As readers of this site’s “Lawyer of the Day” posts everyone knows, lawyers and their clients can be guilty of all kinds of outrageous behavior. Litigation especially, with its inherently adversarial nature, seems to bring out the worst in people.

Bad behavior by lawyers comes in many forms. To non-lawyers, most if not all lawyers are jerks or worse. All bad behavior by lawyers is lumped together. But there are important differences.

A lot of bad behavior should be avoided simply because it is counter-productive. For example, an attorney may refuse to offer voluntary extensions of time to respond to discovery, or to a complaint. Aside from violating a principle of professional courtesy, that behavior also is ultimately self-destructive. In litigation, what comes around goes around, and granting extensions of time that will not prejudice your client is a prudent way to ensure later modest courtesies for yourself when needed.

Declining modest extensions to respond to discovery requests is especially unwise, as the responding party can always just serve objections, with the intention of serving substantive responses before a motion to compel can be filed. Because there is no instantaneous remedy for a failure to serve substantive responses, you often have little to gain by refusing a request for a modest extension of time.

Continue reading to find out when bad behavior crosses the line….

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It is hardly shocking that a woman who chooses to operate under a pseudonym is an introvert. If left to my own devices, I would stay at home watching television and looking out my window. I am talking Boo Radley here.

Unfortunately, momma’s got to earn the money to pay the cable bill, so I must force myself out into the world. Oh, and momma needs a new job, so I have to do the single most painful thing a girl like me must do. No, not hook. I must… NETWORK.

In the past, when attending networking events, I would bring a friend, get drunk on cheap chardonnay, and leave without speaking to anyone new. That is apparently the wrong way to network. So, recently, I decided to really put myself out there: I have started attending networking events (well, at least one networking event) alone. I got there late, hung alone in the corner awkwardly playing with my phone, drank cheap chardonnay, and left without speaking to anyone new. Alas, it was time for me to ask for help…

Luckily for me, I did not have to search far for advice on networking. There are thousands of listicles about how to network. Most of them were useless (e.g., they suggested foregoing chardonnay), and most were geared towards people who did not consider “fear of public speaking” as a scarier thing than death. (Yes, I am one of those people.) Thanks to my LinkedIn news suggestions, I discovered a subset of networking articles geared towards introverts. The advice was earth-shattering….

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