Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

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Sm Firm Hiring P
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Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby Sm Firm Hiring P » Sun Feb 19, 2012 7:20 pm

Flash asked if I would post a topic and take questions instead of various comments throughout the forum. I know many of you are interested in Biglaw but I think I can offer some information. I have been in private practice in the midwest for 30 years. First 9 in the big firms and the last 21 in my own firm that a couple of us started. While we have a small firm (10-25 attorneys say just so I don't get too specific which is frowned upon), we maintain the same type of work we did at the larger firm. We are a business law firm.

I was the recruiting partner at the big firm for 3 years and have spearheaded the effort at our small firm. We generally have 1 or 2 summer associates and frequently offer permanent positions. We offer something a little different, some life style tradeoff, extra pay for business brought into the firm, hands on from the beginning, etc., but obviously cannot meet the entry salaries offered by Biglaw. However, we are very competitive for firms our size. We have had over a dozen offers to be bought by a big firm or be the local office in our town but have turned all of these offers down. As some of you may have noticed, the true mid sized firm in the midwest is disappearing due to economy of scale problems.

We hired one summer associate this year and had 152 applications, a somewhat higher number than we usually see. I am happy to share generally any perspectives on what I saw - the good, the bad, the ugly - what we look for and what several other firms look for (some of our attorneys have spouses in the big firms plus I still have friends there and we talk often). I have done this for quite some time and happy to help if I can. I know it is tough out there.

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NoleinNY
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby NoleinNY » Sun Feb 19, 2012 7:38 pm

Thank you for taking questions!

I have a bit of a three-parter:

For your summer associate spot, did you advertise it on your website and/or symplicity, or were these cold mailings?

Do you know what the norm tends to be (if such a thing exists) for similar small firms regarding summer position hiring, assuming they do hire someone?

What can a 2L do to distinguish themselves beyond class rank (either in the cover letter, resume, or interview)?

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johansantana21
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby johansantana21 » Sun Feb 19, 2012 7:40 pm

What are 1st year associate pay?

How often do you no offer and what factors do you look for before offering a SA?

johndhi
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby johndhi » Sun Feb 19, 2012 7:45 pm

What a great opportunity!

What made you decide to start your own firm?

Did you bring many of your clients over? How was that looked upon by your former firm? Do they refer business to you?

Is it easier to make partner at your firm than at a big firm, and why do you suppose that is? Why is it so hard to make partner at large firms these days? Was this the case when you made partner?

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Flash
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby Flash » Sun Feb 19, 2012 7:50 pm

Thanks so much for starting a thread!

I saw in one of your other threads you mentioned your firm like to bring 1Ls back for 2L summer and subsequently permanent employment. Do grades play a factor in deciding whether to no offer? Like would poor grades preclude an offer even if the person produced good work product and got along well with everyone in the office?

Sm Firm Hiring P
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby Sm Firm Hiring P » Sun Feb 19, 2012 7:52 pm

3. For 2Ls, we look for some legal experience particularly office experience where they know what a legal file is, how it is to be maintained, the use of typcial law firm systems, ability to articulate, whether they researched our firm thoroughly and asked intelligent questions and personality. The "fit" with our firm culture is very important. We call all references and expect to see professors, prior employers and personal references. The cover letter is extremely important. With the volume we have been receiving, a good unique cover letter can set you apart. I do get tired of "I have honed my skills" and similar stock phrases.

Sm Firm Hiring P
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby Sm Firm Hiring P » Sun Feb 19, 2012 7:56 pm

To be honest, we started our own firm due to our dislike of the politics of the big firm where we practiced. Even being 9 years out, it was a scary proposition. Most of the clients I had worked with for years and actually some really liked the fact we could reduce hourly rates due to reduced overhead. Some clients we share with the big firm. The big firm tried to woo a few of the clients but only succeeded with one, who we got back later when the firm billed him for the time at lunch trying to keep him at the firm.

We are on a formula system. So there is less pressure on the partnership decision but some ongoing pressure on the new partner to work hard or produce or both.

I can see your question while I type so if I missed anything, I will circle back or just remind me.

Sm Firm Hiring P
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby Sm Firm Hiring P » Sun Feb 19, 2012 7:59 pm

Obviously grades play a factor in the summer associate offers. We generally hire students in the top 25% but there are some exceptions. We have has some students have some small slippage in grades. We generally don't get too worried about it as long as the other things remain top notch. Some of our associates like to work during school and we will hire some for 8-10 hours a week. What we see is more important than grades though the biggest failures in our firm are often due to poor writing which we find has a connection to grades.

Sm Firm Hiring P
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby Sm Firm Hiring P » Sun Feb 19, 2012 8:04 pm

Circling back on one I missed. Making partner is generally about economics. Firms value productions (ie, quality hours worked and billed, not necessarily those recorded), producing business or becoming instrumental to valuable firm clients or a major partner. The more of those you have, the better chance you have to becoming a partner. In other words, you start to be a risk to the firm in terms of economics or even possibly leaving the firm and taking some business. We are not as mercenary as some. We look for progressions - at the 2 year mark to show abilities to handle parts of projects independently, at the 5 year mark to show the ability to handle a project completely independently other than the normal consults with partners on strategy, after which the partnership question starts to come into play, usually for us at the 8 year mark.

Sm Firm Hiring P
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby Sm Firm Hiring P » Sun Feb 19, 2012 8:09 pm

Missed the salary and no offer question. Our starting salary last year was $ 74,000. I would say it is more often than not that we hire out of the summer program. We advertise that we frequently do when we post each year. It is unusual for us to no offer. I remember 1 and maybe there was another. We did have a couple take big firm offers. To put it into perspective though, some were hired as 1Ls and came back for the 2L summer. We find that in that event, we they start full time with us they really hit the ground running so we many times prefer a good 1L.

johndhi
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby johndhi » Sun Feb 19, 2012 8:13 pm

Sm Firm Hiring P wrote:Circling back on one I missed. Making partner is generally about economics. Firms value productions (ie, quality hours worked and billed, not necessarily those recorded), producing business or becoming instrumental to valuable firm clients or a major partner. The more of those you have, the better chance you have to becoming a partner. In other words, you start to be a risk to the firm in terms of economics or even possibly leaving the firm and taking some business. We are not as mercenary as some. We look for progressions - at the 2 year mark to show abilities to handle parts of projects independently, at the 5 year mark to show the ability to handle a project completely independently other than the normal consults with partners on strategy, after which the partnership question starts to come into play, usually for us at the 8 year mark.


Thanks! The way you put a partner prospect - someone who is a threat to the firm if they leave - isn't something I'd ever heard, but makes a lot of sense.

FYI, you can press the "quote" button in the bottom right corner of a post so that the text of the post you are addressing shows up in your post as well (as I've done here) if you'd find that helpful.

Do you take any cases on contingency fees, or do you use any non-traditional billing methods? (I'm not sure if you meant you do only transactional work when you said you are a "business firm"). Thanks again for posting and for fighting the good fight and running your own firm!

Sm Firm Hiring P
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby Sm Firm Hiring P » Sun Feb 19, 2012 8:15 pm

johndhi wrote:
Sm Firm Hiring P wrote:Circling back on one I missed. Making partner is generally about economics. Firms value productions (ie, quality hours worked and billed, not necessarily those recorded), producing business or becoming instrumental to valuable firm clients or a major partner. The more of those you have, the better chance you have to becoming a partner. In other words, you start to be a risk to the firm in terms of economics or even possibly leaving the firm and taking some business. We are not as mercenary as some. We look for progressions - at the 2 year mark to show abilities to handle parts of projects independently, at the 5 year mark to show the ability to handle a project completely independently other than the normal consults with partners on strategy, after which the partnership question starts to come into play, usually for us at the 8 year mark.

Thanks! The way you put a partner prospect - someone who is a threat to the firm if they leave - isn't something I'd ever heard, but makes a lot of sense.
FYI, you can press the "quote" button in the bottom right corner of a post so that the text of the post you are addressing shows up in your post as well (as I've done here) if you'd find that helpful.
Do you take any cases on contingency fees, or do you use any non-traditional billing methods? (I'm not sure if you meant you do only transactional work when you said you are a "business firm"). Thanks again for posting and for fighting the good fight and running your own firm!


No contingency work. We are hourly but will offer discounts on volume to larger clients. Clients have become very fee savvy in the last few years.

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AntipodeanPhil
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby AntipodeanPhil » Sun Feb 19, 2012 8:34 pm

Sm Firm Hiring P wrote:What we see is more important than grades though the biggest failures in our firm are often due to poor writing which we find has a connection to grades.

Can you say anything more about what writing problems you tend to notice?

From what I've read, writing isn't something people tend to worry about so much here - people mostly seem to talk about getting no-offered for personality issues.

keg411
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby keg411 » Sun Feb 19, 2012 8:39 pm

Since you were previously at a BigLaw firm with obvious success (since you handled recruiting), what advice can you give those of us with 2L SA's or 3L's starting permanently in terms of overall success in BigLaw and how to figure out when the right time is to "exit" BigLaw.

Sm Firm Hiring P
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby Sm Firm Hiring P » Sun Feb 19, 2012 8:50 pm

Writing is a big deal. Writing samples are often problematic. It usually takes a while to show up. We expect litigation associates to draft concise and persuasive pleadings and briefs. There are often problems with keeping them short enough that the judges, particularly at the state court level, will read them. On the corporate side, associates need to draft position letters, letter agreements and formal agreements. I often tell new associates that I expect them to be able to draft a detailed letter agreement from scratch without use of form or any template at the 2 year mark.

Biglaw can be problematic. I believe the turnover rate is around 70% after 3-5 years. It is about 40-50% in the smaller firms. Of course, that is for all reasons, people leaving because a spouse was tranferred, firing, leaving on your own, not liking the department you were assigned to, etc. We do have disillusioned bigfirm attorneys apply to us. The issues are a reduction in starting salary (which is generally not the problem since they want the life style, business development chances, etc.) but the re-tooling. If there focus at the big firm was too narrow or being stuck in a back office or library, then we are in essence starting over or even worse, sometimes dealing with lack of proper supervision (ie, the sink or swim policies of some firms) and therefore, poor organization skills. You handle a lot more projects at a smaller firm so juggling projects is more of a challenge.

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AntipodeanPhil
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby AntipodeanPhil » Sun Feb 19, 2012 8:55 pm

Sm Firm Hiring P wrote:Writing is a big deal. Writing samples are often problematic. It usually takes a while to show up. We expect litigation associates to draft concise and persuasive pleadings and briefs. There are often problems with keeping them short enough that the judges, particularly at the state court level, will read them. On the corporate side, associates need to draft position letters, letter agreements and formal agreements. I often tell new associates that I expect them to be able to draft a detailed letter agreement from scratch without use of form or any template at the 2 year mark.

Thank you! This is extremely helpful.

Sm Firm Hiring P
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby Sm Firm Hiring P » Sun Feb 19, 2012 9:06 pm

Another thing to recognize at any private practice business law firm is realization. The partners run realization reports on associates to see how much of their time was actually billed to a client as opposed to being recorded. While first year rates are generally around 70%, we expect those to move into the 90s in the first year or two. BTW, summer associate realization is more in the 40-50% range, not a great money maker but more of a longer term investment.

Anonymous User
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Feb 19, 2012 9:10 pm

Sm Firm Hiring P wrote:3. For 2Ls, we look for some legal experience particularly office experience where they know what a legal file is, how it is to be maintained, the use of typcial law firm systems, ability to articulate, whether they researched our firm thoroughly and asked intelligent questions and personality. The "fit" with our firm culture is very important. We call all references and expect to see professors, prior employers and personal references. The cover letter is extremely important. With the volume we have been receiving, a good unique cover letter can set you apart. I do get tired of "I have honed my skills" and similar stock phrases.


What types of "personal references" would you expect? Also, how does a 1L with a stock-trade judicial internship learn about legal files and the use of law firm systems? Do you think a specific 1L summer internship in the field in which your firm specializes gives a leg up at all?

Thanks!

Sm Firm Hiring P
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby Sm Firm Hiring P » Sun Feb 19, 2012 9:16 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Sm Firm Hiring P wrote:3. What types of "personal references" would you expect? Also, how does a 1L with a stock-trade judicial internship learn about legal files and the use of law firm systems? Do you think a specific 1L summer internship in the field in which your firm specializes gives a leg up at all?
Thanks!


Law professors a must, preferably a research and writing professor for a 1L. I think the smaller firms view private practice experience as a better leg up though we have hired court of appeals and one state supreme court clerk with success. The down time from having to explain how a law firm operates and the host of practice issues are minimized by experience. That does not mean the judicial internship is not valuable, particularly if you see yourself in litigation. Ideally, you could do this your 1L summer and get the private firm gig the 2L year. We would not look unfavorably on the judicial internship at all, just one piece of the puzzle.

There are a lot of factors we use in summer hires. I would say almost always the person with the highest grades does not end up with the offer from us because they lack other essentials.

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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Feb 19, 2012 9:26 pm

You mentioned becoming valuable to a client as a factor in edging towards partnership in a big firm. What if you work in a practice group (say, restructuring) where your group doesn't end up getting a lot of repeat business?

Sm Firm Hiring P
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby Sm Firm Hiring P » Sun Feb 19, 2012 9:30 pm

Anonymous User wrote:You mentioned becoming valuable to a client as a factor in edging towards partnership in a big firm. What if you work in a practice group (say, restructuring) where your group doesn't end up getting a lot of repeat business?



I listed several factors, that was just one. Being an expert in that area is another. I assume you mean restructuring due to financial stress either outside of or within a formal bankruptcy proceeding (pre-packaged or otherwise). Or did you mean simple corporate restructuring? Either way, take the officers you work with to lunch. Some them may move to another company and have the ability to send business. I built my business that way and as we all get older, the abilities to control legal business by your friends and acquaintances grows.

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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Feb 20, 2012 1:00 am

I have a question that is probably on everyone's minds- a lot of us, despite being very hard working and talented, fell short grade wise to nab a big law job. Sometimes, this can be something like being a 3.4 gpa instead of a 3.5. How much do you care about grades, as opposed to work experience, when hiring?

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kalvano
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby kalvano » Mon Feb 20, 2012 1:26 am

You mentioned the cover letter as being important when evaluating applications. Could you talk a little more about that? What do you look for? And do you get a lot of applications from non-local people? If so, how does someone without any immediately apparent ties to the area make themselves an attractive candidate to you?

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quakeroats
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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby quakeroats » Mon Feb 20, 2012 1:54 am

Thanks for answering questions. I thought of a few:

1. Aside from money and free time, do you find you miss (or gain) anything practicing outside of the major legal markets (New York in particular)?

2. Can you talk about the process of large firms buying small firms? What’s the typical reason on each side? Does it make sense as a strategy? What sort of reasons led you to decline?

3. How was striking out on your own? Why did you do it? Would you do it again? When does it generally make sense and when is it a bad idea?

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Re: Small Firm Hiring Partner Here For Any Questions.

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Feb 20, 2012 2:08 am

As a 2L who struck out at OCI/mass-mailing and with fairly below median GPA, do you have any specific advice on how to work past the grades issue in finding a firm, big, midsize, small, any, to look past those grades and to consider you? Especially at the mailing/networking stage where all they kind of see is you on paper with that negative GPA albatross hanging around your file before they even meet you or speak with you. I will presumably be involved in the 3L job search as well and with hopefully better grades over the next 2-3 semesters, so if you've got any advice on how to go about that with small firms (or big and midsize since you seem to have insight into that hiring process as well) as a 3L I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you for taking the time to do this!




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