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….
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….
Welcome to the second installment of Under the Shingle, an occasional round-up of news and musings from the world of small firms and solo practitioners. In other words, you get a break from me — mostly.
I’ve added a bit of play-by-play to explain and connect these links, which cover such topics as the intersection of solo firms and SCOTUS, solos going big, and the big bad ABA trying to put their laws on your solo body.
Solo to SCOTUS:
A 33-year-old solo on why he left his Biglaw office in favor of working out of a spare bedroom and having his mother as his paralegal: “I wanted to create my own reality.” Well, now his reality includes SCOTUS experience after being granted cert at the last second. Before any of you aspiring solos out there get too excited, know this: his reality also includes borrowing cash from his little brother and eating a lot of PB&Js.
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.
I’m telling you guys, this country is going to hell, one ridiculous overreaction at a time.
If you missed the story, the ABA Journal has a nice summary of what’s going on at Syracuse. The facts are pretty straightforward: student writes a satirical blog which attributes funny, Onion-style quotes to real people. The real people get their panties in a bunch. Syracuse launches an investigation into whether or not the blog constituted libelous bullying of other students, and whether the student author should be expelled for a “code of conduct” violation.
Now, to be clear, if we are going to hold people accountable for being mean to others, expulsion (and not jail) is a far more appropriate response. But, to my mind, this isn’t libel. This is clear parody, and satire should be protected, not punished…
Arizona attorney Tajudeen “Taj” Oladiran came onto our radar back in 2009, when he filed one of the craziest motions we’ve ever seen. Solo practitioner Oladiran, a former associate at Greenberg Traurig, filed a racketeering lawsuit against “Suntrust Bank and its pimps” for allegedly suckering him into predatory housing loans.
The motion that caught our eye — “Motion for a [sic] Honest and Honorable Court System” – was filed to vent Oladiran’s frustration with the “dishonorable” Susan Bolton, whom Taj called “a brainless coward.” That would be the same Susan Bolton who, in a not-so-cowardly move, blocked part of Arizona’s controversial immigration law.
Taj ended the motion:
Finally, to Susan Bolton, we shall meet again you know where.
Over the next year, LexisNexis is rolling out a completely redesigned research platform, and guess who they’re starting with? From the press release that came out Tuesday:
LexisNexis… today announced the launch of Lexis® Advance for Solos – the first in a series of releases of new Lexis® Advance online legal research tools. Created through close collaboration with solo practice lawyers to meet their unique requirements, Lexis Advance for Solos is the first online legal research solution built specifically for solo attorneys…
That’s right. They’re starting with solos. Maybe we don’t need to worry so much about advancing the small firm agenda after all? Perhaps, but I suspect that the real answer is that solos represent the market where Lexis has the most to gain.
But, let’s not quibble over why it’s here. It’s here, and I got a sneak preview of the new product Monday morning. Said “peek” was actually a LexisNexis-led tour via Microsoft’s Live Meeting, so read this with the caveat that I didn’t have a chance to truly kick the tires.
Dubbed Lexis® Advance for Solos, the product went live for purchase on Monday, October 4, and is available only for one and two lawyer outfits. Future segments of the new Lexis Advance platform, including those specifically for Biglaw and even for paralegals, will roll out over the course of the next year, but who cares? Solos have the floor!
My thoughts on the new product, sample screen shots, and pricing, after the break…
Back in 1961, a photographer snapped a picture of President Kennedy that would later be titled “the loneliest job in the world.” It was full of symbolism and it was black-and-white and Kennedy would be assassinated two short years later and Jesus, does anyone really care about all of this? Probably not. Sorry.
Anyway, earlier this week the New York Times published a photo that takes a dump all over the notion that President of the United States is the loneliest job in the world. It was an unassuming, and likely meticulously posed, photograph of a single lawyer. A single lawyer with the weight of the world — and a crumbling legal market — on his shoulders.
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Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
Deal flow has clearly picked recently up for most US associates, counsels and partners in Hong Kong/China and Singapore. We are on the phone with a lot of these folks on a daily basis, many of whom we have known for years. Further, the head of our Asia team, Evan Jowers, and Kinney’s founder and president, Robert Kinney, frequently meet in person with leading US partners in Asia to assess their needs and keep on top of the inside scoop at as many firms as possible. The need for legal recruiting help in Asia from experienced recruiters appears to be live and well. In March, Evan and Robert were in Beijing at such meetings, in April, Evan was in Hong Kong, and for half of June Evan will be in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Thus its pretty easy for us to tell when there has been an across-the-market pick up in capital markets and corporate work.
On an average day in Asia when Evan and Robert visit firms, they typically have 5 to 9 meetings a day, mostly with US partners in the market. The reason they have these meetings is not simply because Kinney makes a lot of US attorney placements in Asia and that a particular firm may have openings; instead these are just visits with friends. After years of working together as business partners, the folks at Kinney are actually these peoples’ friends. The firms Kinney work closely with in Asia (which is just about every law firm – call us if you want to know the one firm in the world we will never place anyone with again, ever, and why) look forward to the visits, or at least act like they do. After seven years in the market, many of the client partners are former associate candidates. Also, these US partners see Kinney as a very good source of market information as well, because they know how deep their contacts are in the market and how frequently they are speaking to counterparts at peer firms.
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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