Valerie Katz

When it comes to networking events, there are two schools of thought. Some say that networking events are a waste of time. Others believe that it is important to go to networking events. I am a proponent of networking events. I do not hold this belief because I think that attending such events will necessarily help you land a client. Frankly, I do not know how that happens.

I do, however, think these events are helpful for young attorneys to make connections with other lawyers who may help them along the path to finding a job or developing and strengthening an area of expertise. To test out this theory, I attended my law school reunion last weekend.

What did I find out? I learned that many of my classmates are married, several had children, and at least three had dramatic makeovers. I also learned that law schools are apparently really keen on getting donations. Oh, and yes, I learned that attending law school reunions is a worthwhile way to network with other attorneys, provided that you follow a few simple steps.

While I believe that reunions are a good networking activity, I am a bit of a disaster when it comes to these events. So, I followed the lead of one of my former classmates who I knew would be a networking pro. And, since I had several pinot grigios that night, I literally followed her lead. Here is what my reunion stalking uncovered….

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Like any well-adjusted adult, I blame my parents for all of my problems. You should too, at least when it comes to your name. For instance, if your parents named you Candy, then they ensured that you would become a stripper. Similarly, if your parents named you Stanley, then you were destined to become a tool.

There are a few exceptions where the name chosen by your parents guarantees that you will be a success. For example, if your parents named you “Valerie,” you were destined to become a star.

The luckiest of all, for our purposes at least, are those chosen few with the last name Small….

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Last week was a sad time for America. People mourned the loss of a visionary, Steve Jobs. I cannot even tell you how many times I heard people talk about his celebrated 2005 Stanford graduation speech. It is without question that Jobs was a genius and we will never know what he could have created with more time. The depth of people’s reactions, however, suggests that we were mourning something more than the loss of a great man. We are, perhaps, mourning the loss of American innovation.

As the saying goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, copy ‘em. Or at least that is what I am saying now. And luckily, I came across a blog post by Larry Bodine about what lawyers, particularly small-firm lawyers, can learn from Jobs….

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Anytime my lawyer friends talk shop, my divorce lawyer friend always has the most interesting stories. A few months ago, a group of us went for happy hour. The conversation turned to a discussion of what we were doing at work. I said that my client was contemplating settlement over his parking lot lawsuit. Everyone yawned. My finance lawyer friend began to talk about securitizing something, but then just stopped talking because she knew her work was even more boring. This trend continued until my divorce lawyer friend talked about a recent trial. The highlights of her story included a lesbian affair and a mail-order bride. We were all rapt.

For that reason, I have wanted to profile a divorce firm for a while. Recently, I was lucky enough to have a conversation with San Francisco family lawyer (I guess they prefer that term) Erik Newton. His firm, Heath Newton LLP, has become a highly regarded boutique law firm that specializes in “Family Building,” “Divorce and Dissolution,” and “Asset Protection”….

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As some of you may be aware, it is the Jewish New Year. This means that I get two opportunities to reflect on the past year and make resolutions. Indeed, I have now resolved — for the second time — to eat less carbs. The problem with these kinds of resolutions is that they usually do not work. I think it has something to do with putting way too much emphasis on one day (New Year’s Day, or I guess Rosh Hashanah), rather than working towards a goal consistently throughout the year.

At work, the equivalent of the New Year’s Resolution is the year-end review. All of ones strengths and weaknesses displayed in the prior year are discussed during a thirty-minute conversation that often ends with a bonus check and/or tears. The year-end review, like the New Year’s Resolution, does not work. Rather than getting feedback only once a year, you should make every day New Year’s Day. Well, maybe not every day….

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I recently came across an article about an Atlanta solo-practitioner who has found a niche practice area. He has become the go-to guy for dog bite lawsuits. The article was interesting to me for two reasons. First, I love me a niche practice. Second, in the article, the attorney, Evan Kaine, discussed a problem common for many small-firm attorneys. That problem is the difficulty of collecting on judgments and getting one’s fees paid.

Kaine explained the reason for the difficulty as follows:

In June, Kaine’s clients were awarded $60,000 in one case and $700,000 in another, but he questions how much, if anything, they’ll ultimately collect. The problem, said Kaine, is that in these and many other dog bite cases the animals’ owners are renters who have no insurance and whose landlords’ homeowners policies cannot be tapped under Georgia law. Despite having clients who are in some cases grievously injured, Kaine’s recovery prospects are dim at best and constitute “small victories,” he said.

As sad as it is when a client does not get the award he is due, it is much worse when the lawyer does not obtain her fees for the work done to obtain that award, right?

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With the departure of Jay Shepherd, I am now (at least temporarily) filling the role of small firm chica (Val) and small firm expert (Jay). Let me tell you, it is exhausting.

So, I am going to do what any smart, small-firm partner would do in this situation, and I am going to delegate. And, by delegate, I mean push the work off on you.

I have a few new features that I would like to unveil (and I swear, it will be better than the new Facebook)…

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Last week, I thought my life had ended. No, it was not the announcement that All My Children is ending this week. That tragedy I learned to live with once I found out that online episodes will start airing this winter. It was because my iPhone broke, or at least I thought it had.

I panicked. I, like those fax machine loving small-firm attorneys, am not tech savvy. So, I went straight to the Apple website and set up an appointment at the Genius Bar. As I was waiting for my appointment, I emailed a friend to ask her if she had any idea on how to fix my phone. She responded, “Did you Google it?” No, I had not. And, within thirty seconds of web-searching, I had found the solution to my problem.

I realized from our email exchange that there are two types of people in this world: people who are helpless, and those who help themselves. Since learning that I had yet another issue to work on, I set out to find a small-firm lawyer who practices self-help.

Meet Jessica Fairchild of Fairchild Law Offices, LLC. Fairchild, a University of Chicago graduate and former Sidley Austin attorney, started her own firm in May 2010. Fairchild’s path to solo success was the result of this lady making things happen. While I would unlikely be able to follow suit unless there is a way to use the Genius Bar to find small firm success (niche alert!), you can try for yourself by following these steps….

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As you can likely tell, I am fascinated by terminology. I understand the importance of using language to market and promote your firm. I had never thought, however, about the use of terminology within a firm until recently.

The word that inspired this revelation is “project.” Project is used in many ways and with multiple connotations:

(1) “She is my pet project.” This means that “she” is a disaster and needs help. Project is used to demean.

(2) “I am undertaking a house renovation project.” This means that “I” am boring. Project is used literally.

(3) “Do not tell anyone about Project X.” This means those who are a part of Project X are either CIA agents, criminals, or my mother (Project X = Project Val). Project is used mysteriously.

(4) “Hi Val, you are going to be in charge of the data gathering project.” This means that I have a terrible assignment to complete. Project is used insincerely….

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I have a confession to make.

Most of my friends are lawyers. Forrealz. To be sure, an increasing number of them, like me, no longer practice. But most of them still do, and I still like hanging with them.

When I would go to Suffolk Superior Court in Boston, or the federal district court across the channel in Southie, I would bump into classmates or colleagues more often than not. Later in my practice, it became increasingly common that I would already be friends with my opposing counsel. Some lawyers don’t like litigating against their friends, but I always did. It made it easier to get things done, and you didn’t have to waste time with unnecessary gamesmanship.

If you already had a level of trust with your opposing counsel, you could skip all the silly things that slow down litigation and make it more unpleasant. Discovery disputes, for example, drop down to zero. Settlement talks start sooner and are more meaningful. Extension requests are automatically given. Cases get resolved faster and easier.

But do you know who doesn’t like it when opposing lawyers are friendly with each other?

Find out who — plus big news about this column — after the jump.

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