Small Law Firms

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….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “From Biglaw to Boutique: Come On Along, or Go Alone”

There are only two weeks remaining before New Year’s Eve. That means that my small-firm singles only have a short window to secure their New Year’s Eve date. And according to our survey, none of you will be working on the holiday, so you better get your act together.

Luckily for you, I am an expert at finding love. If you can believe it, this skill outshines my genius at doling out small-firm advice. And since I write under a pseudonym, none of you know that I am a 46-year-old spinster who has eggs in the freezer. Oh, well I guess you do now, but let’s get on with my tips for a successful small-firm seduction….

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What do you get when you combine pig products, a sketchy guy in a mustache, and death metal? One colossally horrendous law firm commercial.

The folks at Hamilton Law in Las Vegas were presumably late to the domain-name-grabbing game and had to settle for being called “ham legal.” Rather than fight their unfortunate web address, the firm has apparently opted to embrace it and go whole hog into swine-themed advertising.

If you’ve ever wondered what a pig-centric legal commercial looks like, you’re in luck. The answer is a bad Saturday Night Live skit with a voice-over by a circa mid-2000s Jack Black promoting Tenacious D. Check out the horror, after the jump….

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We are pleased and proud to announce Above the Law’s third annual law firm holiday card contest. This happy, heartwarming feature is a Christmastime favorite, as beloved as figgy pudding. It’s the perfect cure for the bonus season blues.

For the past two years, Biglaw and small firms have duked it out for the distinction of having the best Christmas card. Last year’s honors went to a small firm: Proctor Heyman, the Delaware corporate litigation and counseling boutique. In the inaugural holiday card contest, a large firm prevailed: Akin Gump (which recently announced its bonuses, at least in New York).

We’ve already received several emails asking about when this year’s contest would start. The answer is: it starts today!

Read on — and read carefully — for the official contest rules….

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After graduating from college, I had a job interview with Mars. The interviewer asked me, “If you could be a candy bar, which one would you be and why?” I was not prepared for such a difficult question. First, I had to try to recall which candy bars were manufactured by Mars. Second, deciding which candy bar was my favorite was like choosing a favorite child. After a little thought, I responded, “I would be a Twix bar because there are two of them.” In addition to making no sense, my answer revealed a personality flaw that is best not disclosed up front: I am indecisive. And I guess I have a split personality? Unsurprisingly, I did not get the job.

There are a few other issues, beyond choosing my favorite candy bar, that I have difficulty resolving. The issue du jour is whether or not it is worth getting more education to get a (better) job. And I am not just talking about a J.D., I am talking about the Small Business LLM from Concord Law School.

Concord Law School launched its Small Business LLM program in the fall of 2010. Designed to be completed part-time online in two years, the program offers hands-on practical education to equip practitioners or recent law grads with the skills needed to serve small business clients. Tuition is $600 per credit hour, or $14,400 for the program. While Concord does not offer scholarships, there are opportunities for students to obtain outside financial aid and private loans.

Is it worth it? Let’s discuss the pros and cons….

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Being a small firm lawyer usually means that you’re not a cog in the wheel of some multi-national corporation while enjoying their stream of business sent to your firm because of someone on another floor. Small firm lawyers either have to blow their brains out on ads featuring their angry mugs (arms crossed in aggressive, “fight-for-you” anger), direct mail, or the art and science of talking to people and developing relationships, otherwise known as networking.

In this arena, there are two types of lawyers: Those that “don’t do networking,” and those that do it because it is required to establish a word of mouth practice. I know you think there’s a third — those that love networking, but those lawyers are to be avoided at all costs. Lawyers that love going out after work and eating bar food, drinking low-level vodka, and asking “so, where’s your office,” are rejects. Ignore them. They just want to give you their business card the minute they lay eyes on you and tell you to “call (me) whenever you have a (usually PI or real estate) matter.”

For those that want the word of mouth practice, and the reputation in the community as a go-to person (assuming you are a competent lawyer, and these days, that’s a big assumption), here are some things to consider….

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