Small Law Firms

The polls remain open in our Lawyerly Lairs contest to find the Best Law Offices in America. If you haven’t done so already, you can review the eight finalists and cast your vote here.

The Georgia boutique of Bouhan, Williams & Levy took an early lead, thanks to their amazing offices in a restored Southern mansion. Right now, though, 1-800-LAW-FIRM is in first place. How many law firms have “walking tracks” and exercise rooms?

Due to the overwhelming response to our call for submissions, we were unable to include all of the great spaces that you shared with us. Today we’d like to recognize our “Honorable Mentions” — four firms that narrowly missed the final cut….

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Tom Wallerstein

I’ve been known to quip, “I thought I was wrong, once, but I was mistaken.” But I realize that my column here on Above the Law has often been “wrong” in at least one important way: I’ve compared apples to oranges.

For example, I authored a “top ten” list of differences between working in a big firm and working in a boutique. But many of the items focused on differences between employee and owner. I compared working where “you get paid either a salary or an hourly rate” with “running your own shop.” I compared “making all the decisions in my cases” with “waiting for a partner to act on my recommendations.” I compared doing the grunt work with making the important decisions.

That strikes me as comparing apples to oranges because all those comparisons actually contrasted being an employee with being an owner. That fundamental distinction accounts for many of the supposed differences between working in Biglaw and working in a small firm or boutique.

But what about associates who are considering becoming associates at a small firm or boutique? That’s the true apples to apples comparison. If you’re not starting your own business, but will instead remain an associate, what are the real differences when moving “From Biglaw to Boutique”?

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An article came out this week musing on solo practice from resident tech tweeter Niki Black. I felt bad there were no comments, so I thought I would write one.

From Black’s article: “Nowadays, however, it’s much easier to launch a solo practice with a minimal up front investment. All that’s really needed is a small amount of savings, a laptop, a smart phone, and an Internet connection.”

There you have it. We’re done here. All you basement-dwelling “my law school screwed me over by lying to me” bitter and broke lawyers now have the golden ticket: a few bucks in the bank, a quick trip to Best Buy, and voila — a solo practice is born. You heard it here — “[a]ll that’s really needed” is… tech!

And let’s not get into other necessities, like opening an operating and trust account, incorporating, learning the proper way to pay yourself and the IRS, securing appropriate insurances (life, health, disability), maybe having an address to receive mail that isn’t your parents’ house, figuring out how to properly organize and store client files that aren’t in the precious “cloud,” and understanding your state bar’s advertising rules.

I’m sure there are a few dozen other things I’ve missed, but hey, you can only handle so much, right?

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Last week, when I needed a break from educating myself about the differences between legitimate and illegitimate rape, I decided to turn my attention back to the question that consumes the mind of all single women over the age of 25 as cobwebs grow in our wombs: Why can’t I find a nice, professional man to take care of me?

Maybe it’s my long hair? Oh, right, that’s what’s killing my career, not rendering me a spinster. There are just so many pitfalls to being a female, it’s hard to keep track sometimes.

But then I saw him. A beacon of light in today’s sea of unmanly men. Richard Schulte, from Ohio. But let’s call him Rick. Rick is a much more virile name.

His profile is so dripping with testosterone, I just have to go talk to him.

So, Rick, you’re a lawyer? Wow. Isn’t that, like, really scary and intimidating?

Rick Schulte isn’t afraid to go to trial, not a bit. Most attorneys are or at the very least, they’re apprehensive. Big difference.

Oh, we’re talking in the third person now? That’s hot. Natasha likes men who speak in the third person and aren’t afraid.

Please, tell me more….

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As regular readers of Lawyerly Lairs know well, some attorneys have beautiful — and expensive — homes. As we’ve just learned from the impressive submissions in our contest to find the best law firm offices in America, many attorneys’ workplaces are no less spectacular.

With the help of Mary Kate Sullivan, our wonderful intern here at Above the Law, I’ve winnowed the large and impressive field to eight finalists. There’s nice diversity here, in terms of firms (Biglaw versus non-Biglaw); decor (traditional versus modern); and geography (seven different cities, located all over the country).

Let’s check them out, shall we?

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Tom Wallerstein

Many attorneys who leave Biglaw for smaller or solo practices find themselves considering contingent fee cases, either by necessity or design. “By necessity,” because a practice may not have many paying clients when it first forms. “By design,” because an attorney working for a contingent fee has the prospect of hitting a huge payday and making many times what an attorney who bills by the hour can make.

The challenge of business development takes on a whole new meaning when applied to contingent fee lawyers. To some extent, a contingent fee attorney has the opposite problem of an attorney billing by the hour. There is no shortage of clients who want a lawyer they need pay only if they win. Thus, the contingent fee attorney always has too many potential clients whereas the hourly attorney always has too few.

Because attorneys can find themselves inundated with clients offering a contingent fee, evaluating which cases to take, and which to turn down, can be challenging. Essentially, taking a case on contingency is an investment of your time, energy, and financial resources. You need to carefully assess whether the investment is a good one….

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Hardly ever Every so often an interesting email comes across a lawyer listserv. The good ones are hard to find in the middle of, “Does anyone know a really fantastic and also really cheap lawyer in (some town no one’s heard of where there are no lawyers or courthouses) for my friend who got fired for being late 16 times but he says he was discriminated against,” or, “I know this question has been asked before (every week) but….,” or, “What is the best printer for a lawyer with no practice?”

And then there’s Solosez. This is the listserv for solo practitioners that has all the answers, except to many of the lawyers there who believe it is evidence of the end of the profession. Every once in a while I see an email from Solosez, sent by a young solo who wants to show me evidence of why they may off themselves. (Note: As a result of this disclosure, there will be an email on Solosez reminding members not to forward any evidence that what I’m saying is true emails to Brian Tannebaum anyone.)

Recently, in a moment of rare honesty by a lawyer, a solo wrote to tell fellow Sezzers (I did not make that up, they actually call themselves this) that they had failed at solo practice….

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Tom Wallerstein

Associates in both Biglaw and small should give some thought as to who is their most important client. Some might think that their most important client is their biggest or most prestigious one, or the one whose matter has the most at stake. This week at Morrison & Foerster and Quinn Emanuel, yearning associates might name Apple and Samsung, respectively.

Other associates might take a longer view, and answer that their most important client is the one with the greatest potential to offer them future business.

Still others might select the client for whom the associate has the most responsibility. For example, if you are one of three or four associates on several matters, but the primary or sole associate on another, you may view that latter client as your most important.

All these associates would be making a mistake by not understanding who is truly their most important client….

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Nepotism and small-town law practice have gone hand in hand since the invention of the shingle. Our country’s fine judicial system is littered with dynamic duos of father and son lawyers, fighting injustice one personal injury at a time.

One firm out in Ohio, however, has taken the family business concept to a whole new level. Meet Murray & Murray Co., L.P.A., where nine — count ‘em, nine — members of the Murray family are partners… in a 14-lawyer firm.

Sandusky, Ohio, known for little more than being the home of Cedar Point and sharing a name with the most prominent pedophile in the last decade, is the home turf of the Murray clan. Together, the family handles an array of personal injury matters, from auto and truck accidents to fatal auto and truck accidents.

But just what fate lies in wait for non-Murrays who dare to join the firm?

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With both law school and the law school application season about to resume, let’s return to our popular series of Law School Success Stories. While we believe it’s important to provide our readers with accurate information about the perils of law school, including data about high lawyer unemployment and crushing student debt, we like to balance out the doom and gloom with stories of successful lawyers who made winning bets on legal education.

Today’s success story comes to us via the august pages of the New York Times. Even though this young lawyer didn’t go to a top-tier law school, he’s enjoying a phenomenal legal career, marked by fame and fortune.

His story contains valuable lessons for people thinking about, or already enrolled in, law school. Let’s learn more about him, shall we?

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