Valerie Katz

Being a Chicagoan, I am serious about my deep-dish pizza. I am so serious, in fact, that I recently went on a pizza tour. Along with six other people (all tourists for some unknown reason) and our guide (a curiously skinny pizza aficionado), we sampled a slice from three famous pizzerias. One of the restaurants began as a small family business and grew to a restaurant chain with multiple locations.

During the download part of the tour, we all unbuttoned the top button of our jeans and opined on which pizza was the best. The consensus was that the chain restaurant was not as good as the others. The Pizza Sherpa agreed with our assessment, but concluded that he would “not mind owning a piece” of the chain restaurant. I was shocked that our guide was willing to sell out like that, but I understood his sentiment that bigger is better when it comes to money-making pizza operations.

On a similar note, since I began writing this column, I have spoken to many lawyers who have started their own small law firms. During our conversations, I always ask what the lawyer envisions for the future of his/her small firm. The answer is the same: managed growth wherein the firm grows in size, but maintains its small-firm feel.

I am now in a deep existential crisis. Here I have devoted my life (or at least a few hours a week) to promoting all that is good about small law firms, when it appears than no one really wants to stay small. Is small only a place to start?

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Before I sat down to write this column, I thought I knew what trolls were. Answer: they are the men who I dated in law school. Apparently, that is only partially true. Trolls are also a potential revenue source for small firms.

The term “patent trolls” is a controversial term with multiple meanings. According to Wikipedia, the definition includes a party that does one or more of the following:

• Purchases a patent, often from a bankrupt firm, and then sues another company by claiming that one of its products infringes on the purchased patent;
• Enforces patents against purported infringers without itself intending to manufacture the patented product or supply the patented service;
• Enforces patents but has no manufacturing or research base;
• Focuses its efforts solely on enforcing patent rights; or
• Asserts patent infringement claims against non-copiers or against a large industry that is composed of non-copiers.

The controversy can be seen by comparing the views of those considered the trolls (the non-practicing entities with patent rights) to those who are sued by the trolls (often big companies). For instance, compare this to this. The former considers the notion of a patent troll to be a myth, while the latter describes patent trolls as “reprehensible.” For those of you looking for a side gig, you may consider talking to the silk-screeners of the Team Aniston and Team Jolie t-shirts during the Brangolina saga.

Regardless of where you fall on the Team Trolls versus Team Troll-Haters debate, a recent article suggests that patent trolls can mean big money for small firms….

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It may be true that all happy families are alike while each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Based on my experience going undercover as V. Katz, I have come to learn that this is also true for associates (Biglaw and small).

Based on the comments on the salary survey, there are many small-firm associates with grievances regarding transparency, salary, benefits, hours, etc. Based on conversations with Biglaw associates, there are many who are burnt out and looking to make a “lifestyle” change by moving to a small firm, in-house position, or government job (although hopefully they saw the results that showed many small-firm associates work similar hours to Biglaw). In my conversations with unemployed or underemployed associates, they bemoan their law school loans and hope for a job before they become “obsolete and unable to re-enter the work force at the same level they were at when they lost their jobs.”

For some reason, these associates reach out to me for comfort and guidance. So, I offer them my version of a pep talk, after the jump….

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I know that all of you have been anxiously awaiting the results of the salary survey. I had envisioned the results post to be equal in excitement to the results shows for American Idol or Dancing With The Stars. Indeed, in anticipation of this monumental post, I commissioned a group of MIT grad students to perform a regression analysis, do a double-blind sampling, and make colorful pie charts. Unfortunately, that dream cannot be realized today. I take partial responsibility for the survey design, but going forward please include salary information if you chose to participate in a salary survey and designate your location with specificity (e.g. not “the South” or “California” or “an NFL market”).

It is not all bad news for you. I have some good news.

The good news:
• A few trends emerged;
• The majority of respondents were unhappy with their compensation (maybe not good, but consistent);
• I can tell you with high accuracy the salary information for a few third year associates in various cities; and
• I learned a few new curse words.

Now that I have successfully managed expectations, let’s look at the results after the jump.

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Law firm advertising is expensive and certain methods may be cost-prohibitive for small firms. For instance, a small firm may not be able to afford a television or print campaign. Enter online marketing including, among other things, Google AdWords and sponsored links. In 2009, a law firm filed a lawsuit in Wisconsin state court challenging certain marketing strategies as an invasion of privacy, as defined in the Wisconsin privacy statute. Luckily for consumers and small firms, the court disagreed.

The case involved the two most prominent personal injury firms in Wisconsin. One of them, Cannon & Dunphy, used a Google AdWords PPC (price-per-click) strategy (and other search engines) to bid on the name of the state’s largest personal injury firm, Habush, Habush & Rottier. In other words, when a user would search the terms Habush or Rottier, a Cannon & Dunphy link would show up in the shaded section as a Sponsored Link.

Habush sued Cannon, alleging that Cannon’s online marketing campaign violated Wis. Stat. §995.50. That statute prohibits “the use, for advertising purposes or for purposes of trade, of the name . . . of any living person, without having first obtained the written consent of the person,” and provides a cause of action where such an invasion of privacy was unreasonable.

The result of the litigation, after the jump….

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The other day, I was watching television and I saw several commercials advertising divorce firms and personal injury firms. One ad featured a scene of nursing home neglect, followed by dramatic music and terms like “BEDSORES,” flashed across the screen in all-caps. Another ad featured William Shatner asking me if I needed legal help.

Two thoughts came to mind after watching these ads: (1) what shady television shows was I watching that would cause a legal marketer to decide that I was part of the target audience for people with issues relating to BEDSORES, and (2) does anyone actually decide to seek out a lawyer based on these seemingly ridiculous ads?

So I decided to investigate television advertising as a marketing technique for small and solo practitioners. Who, if anyone, stands to benefit from using television advertising?

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There is a small-firm lawyer I know who does not appear to me to be super at anything, other than perhaps being super-gross (yes, I am aware that I speak like a little girl on the playground). I recall a meeting in his office wherein he used his pen to clean his teeth, which resulted in his pen exploding on his shirt. Undeterred by his mess, this man continued to advocate for his client by explaining to me “all’s” he knew about a certain subject. As I was getting up to leave that meeting, I saw several wall mountings that indicated that he had been selected for inclusion in the SuperLawyers listing for several years in a row.

That experience made me wonder whether the SuperLawyers list, at least when it comes to small-firm attorneys, was somewhat less than “super.” Indeed, I felt that small-firm lawyers were disproportionately recognized as SuperLawyers. Who does not know a small-firm attorney selected for inclusion in that list?

So I decided to expose the SuperLawyers conspiracy….

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There is a neighborhood in Chicago that smells like chocolate. The reason is due to Blommer Chocolate Company’s Chicago factory. I have never been inside, but according to a documentary I once saw regarding chocolate factories, inside there is a chocolate river, Oompa Loompas, and an eccentric chocolatier.

Much to my surprise, there was an opening at Blommer for over a year. Among other qualifications, the position required the applicant to be able to taste and consume chocolate and other products. Who would not jump at the chance to work there? Admittedly, there were a few negatives to the position (see here), but overall it sounded much better than a typical job wherein one does not get to taste and consume chocolate (at least not as an integral part of the daily routine).

If only there was some professional whose job it was to match open positions like this with qualified applicants….

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I have become obsessed with LinkedIn lately (and not just because of their recent IPO). I am trying to become one of those people with the 500+ connections. So I troll the website for potential contacts on an hourly basis.

Yesterday, I found a few guys with whom I had gone to law school. These guys bypassed Biglaw and went straight to IP boutiques. Five years after graduating law school, these guys were all partners. Seeing this, I confirmed a theory I have long held: the road to success in a small firm is vastly different than that in Biglaw.

I do not mean to say that the path to success is easier in a small firm, despite the shorter path to partner for my classmates (which is not true for all small firms). In fact, in some ways becoming a successful small-firm associate may be more difficult than in Biglaw. So, how do you excel at a small firm? I asked some small-firm superstars to share their tips….

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It has been said that one has truly arrived as a small-firm superstar when he appears in this column. Who said that? Someone, I am sure. While I simply cannot confer that honor to all small-firm attorneys, there is a second place honor: a feature in the New York Times. Martin Singer — the “guard dog” to Hollywood royalty, and founder of the small firm Lavely & Singer — is one of these superstars.

Singer’s client list includes some major starpower: Charlie Sheen, Jeremy Piven (remember when Ari Gold had mercury poisoning?), Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Harry Reid, Quentin Tarantino, and (gasp) Sylvester Stallone. Through these relationships, Singer has developed a niche that anyone would want to scratch: “shielding stars and their adjuncts from annoyance.”

While Singer’s firm specializes in all things entertainment, “[n]othing gets Mr. Singer going like a whiff of defamation.” And when he gets going, he does what has made him famous: “kill, or at least maim, unflattering stories that have yet to surface.” Some attorneys do not believe the hype about Singer’s ability to kill said stories (e.g., noted First Amendment lawyer Martin Garbus, who described Singer as a “blowhard”). But Hollywood publicists are convinced that Singer is the man to call when a story breaks about their clients’ love child or sex tape.

Do not be fooled by the glitz and glamour associated with representing celebrities. After the jump, see how Lavely & Singer is like many other successful small firms….

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