Small Law Firms

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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It’s not part of a legal strategy or way to churn the file; it’s an attorney-initiated discussion about the client smack in the middle of the case.

What usually happens is that the attorney is retained, legal work begins, the client is updated as to the status of the case/matter, asked to weigh in occasionally on strategy, and reminded about the pending bill. We see this as part of the job, but how do the clients perceive the representation?

At some point in the representation, the best chance you have to hear what the client is really thinking is when they are not happy. You’ll get that anxious phone call, that question that is really a criticism, and it is during those times that you focus on trying to make the client happy.

What if you were proactive?

What if you scheduled a non-billable meeting with the client, outside your office, for the sole purpose of allowing the client to voice their overall concerns after you’ve been representing them for a while?

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On Friday evening, we briefly mentioned the tragic news of a bicyclist getting struck and killed in an apparent hit-and-run incident. An attorney from the San Francisco Bay Area was arrested, accused of being the responsible (or not-so-responsible) driver.

This is the kind of story that gives attorneys in general a bad reputation. It’s got everything: possible deceitfulness, apparent lack of ethics, and a fancy car. The vehicle in question wasn’t some junky scraper, but a brand-new Mercedes.

You can’t make this stuff up — unless you want to be accused of ripping off Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities (affiliate link)…

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* When Dewey tell the world that we’re dead, but not yet buried? The firm filed a notice with the New York State Department of Labor listing its closing date as yesterday. And what’s their reason for doing so? “Economic.” [Am Law Daily (sub. req.)]

* Dewey have anyone left in the Office of the Chairman? Apparently not: Charles Landgraf has moved on to greener pastures. There is no longer a captain at the wheel of the S.S. Dewey. [The Hill]

* “The continuing loss of revenue-generating partners and Dewey’s debt load has culminated in the imminent demise of Dewey.” Damn, the PBGC certainly doesn’t mince words. Meet the firm’s latest lawsuit. [Reuters]

* A judge reinstated Le-Nature’s $500M case against K&L Gates for failure to detect fraud. Hope the firm has a half-billion lying around — they haven’t been doing too well with the whole honesty thing lately. [Businessweek]

* You stay classy, DSK! Your aggravated pimp hand is strong! Dominique Strauss-Kahn filed a $1M countersuit against Nafissatou Diallo because she “ruined his life, personally and professionally.” [Wall Street Journal]

* Conspiring to price fix? There’s an app for that! A federal judge denied Apple’s and several book publishers’ motions to dismiss a consumer class-action lawsuit about e-book pricing. [Media Decoder / New York Times]

* Like FernGully in reverse? A judge refused to dismiss Chevron’s racketeering and fraud lawsuit against New York attorney Steven Donziger for his work done in Ecuador. [New York Law Journal]

* Thomas Jefferson Law will be the site of the next solo incubator. This is a great way to keep your grads from suing you (not to mention a great way to increase your employed-at-nine-months rate). [National Law Journal]

I am always intrigued by articles giving advice on appropriate office behavior. For whatever reason, these advice columns almost always discuss the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of crying in the office. I am not sure why this is such a newsworthy topic, as I have rarely witnessed such behavior — either as a Biglaw associate or when I went to a small firm. And I only cried once in my five years of practice, and that was not in the office — it was in the elevator. Unfortunately a partner happened to be in the elevator with me, but I could not help it.

Last week the Wall Street Journal featured an article on this topic. Don’t Cry (At The Office) suggests that you not cry at the office (yes, shocking). The article goes on to suggest that you go home or to your therapist’s office to cry because while having feelings at work is a no-no, it is important to have feelings when you are off the clock.

After learning that one should not cry at the office, I decided to investigate other inappropriate behaviors. I have put together a list of forbidden actions for small-firm attorneys based on input from my cadre of small-firm Emily Posts.

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A retail business owner asked me why I don’t believe in pay-per-click advertising or spending money on SEO strategies for my practice, as it has worked well for his stores. So I asked him: “What would you do if you needed a lawyer?” “I would call someone, get a name, and then look that person up,” he said. “You wouldn’t just do a Google search?” “No, never. After I got a name, I would check out the lawyer’s background, maybe see if he’s written anything that gives him credibility.”

No kids, he’s not talking about cute tweets or postings with links on a Facebook Fan Page. He’s talking about real writing, and he’s talking about getting your name from real people.

Now I know that I’m wrong, don’t know what I’m talking about, and am facing a sure death of my practice by suggesting that there are other ways of getting your name out there besides vomiting all over every social media platform, but it’s okay. When it all dries up, I’m sure I will have plenty of job offers from the wildly successful lawyers of the commentariat.

For those wondering if the life of a lawyer will ever be anything more than keeping track of your Google prowess by taking calls of, “I found you on the internet. How much do you charge?,” I have good news — it can be. There are actually real people out there that are looking for quality. It’s not that they found you first; it’s that they found you after a little research. If you’re going to be the type of lawyer that is found after someone gives your name, you might as well have something on the internet that evidences you have done more than just listen to some unemployed lawyer’s advice on building a practice.

My ideas are all free, and if you’re not afraid to use your real name, you may get some benefit from using them….

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Tom Wallerstein

Smaller firms which compete with their Biglaw brethren on cost often promote their efficiency and lower overhead. Understandably, these firms impliedly or expressly try to associate lower overhead with lower fees for their clients. Smaller firms have been so successful with this approach that overhead often seems to connote waste and inefficiency. But overhead is sometimes a necessary evil, and it behooves small firm entrepreneurs to remember the “necessary” aspect as well.

For example, forsaking a physical office in favor of a virtual shop obviously lowers a firm’s overhead and allows the firm to offer lower fees. But many people, including me, have written about the several benefits of having a physical office. I pointed to benefits such as credibility with clients and other lawyers, and helping yourself stay motivated and focused. This is an easy example of how lower overhead may impose a hidden cost on the business.

Of course, the biggest overhead expense for most law firms is payroll. Limiting the number of employees is the surest way to keep expenses under control. But is it always the right move?

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About a month ago, we wrote about an interesting lawsuit that Twitter filed against the allegedly “most aggressive” Twitter spammers. The social media giant took action against companies with goofy names, such as TweetAttacks, TweetAdder, and TweetBuddy.

At least one of the defendants, Skootle, the company that developed TweetAdder, is fighting back against Twitter’s allegations. The company filed a response brief on Friday and is represented by none other than one of Above the Law’s own regular columnists.

Keep reading to see Skootle’s brief and learn which ATL columnist is helming the defense…

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