The differences in the workday life and times of a SmallLaw attorney versus his/her BigLaw counterpart are many and for the most part somewhat obvious!
The focus for a BigLaw attorney, particularly an associate on the infamous ‘partner track‘, tends to be billable hours and to emerge in the eyes of the firms partners as a rainmaker who consistently brings new (and bill paying) clients into the firm. And, of course, as it is in most large business entities, the ability to play the political game and to play it well!
And, even if they excel at all three of the above-mentioned tasks, there are no guarantees that the associate will ultimately grab the brass ring.
On the flip side of the coin, while solo and SmallLaw practitioners will tend to have more power along with decision-making responsibilities that will offer them great upside potential, those benefits bring with them a great deal of downside risk as well!
So while the differences between SmallLaw and BigLaw attorney’s are fairly stark, if the decision is made to go the ‘small’ route, what are some of the attributes of an attorney that will lead to success?
From an article at a website that everyone should consider subscribing to by the name Above The Law,
Here is my personal list of the five best types of SmallLaw attorneys.
The Ones Who Know When They’re Too Busy (and aren’t afraid to say it). SmallLaw is just like Biglaw, in that it’s easy for a lot of different matters that were at one time perfectly spaced out to start speeding up or slowing down so that everything comes due at once. And in SmallLaw, there aren’t as many options — we don’t have a bunch of people in the Jacksonville office that can be mobilized at the last minute to work on a particular project. Yet, when you’re responsible for keeping the lights on, there’s always the fear that after all of the current matters have been resolved, there won’t be anything left to do, and you’ll have to close up shop and start busking on the street corner. Thus, similar to Biglaw, we don’t say “no” a lot. The best lawyers in SmallLaw aren’t afraid to admit they are too busy, even to potential lucrative clients.
The Ones Who Are Available. See above about being too busy. The best lawyers are, well, the best lawyers, and so they are in demand at all times. Still, there are some who just always seem to have time for a phone call. I don’t know how they do it, because I’ll freely admit I’m not that way. (In fact, I have a policy where at certain times of the day I concentrate on drafting and reviewing documents, during which I neither answer the phone nor email.) I’m much more inclined to reach out to someone — or refer the person work — if I know this particular lawyer is going to answer the phone. Kudos to these lawyers.
The Ones Who Take Their Duties Seriously. Ethics, certainly. The “who is my actual client” question comes into play much more when you’re the one who’s billing and collecting the money. But beyond that, we have duties as lawyers and as representatives to our clients. I’ve been involved in deals that fell apart, with something between a bang and a whimper. Amidst all the fallout it can difficult to determine what is best for the client. The best lawyers don’t get so caught up in a rush to reach a resolution (even if that’s when they’re going to get paid) that they lose sight of their obligations to their client. Ever read (or see) Billy Budd? The best lawyers are like Captain Vere. It’s not always easy to do the right thing.
The Ones Who Are Always Learning. Some of us have carved out practices that have turned into comfortable businesses doing relatively routine work. The best lawyers, even if they’ve managed to crack the code and develop this type of practice, are still always pursuing knowledge. When your day-to-day is packed with billable hours and trying to satisfy a large number of different clients and other stakeholders, carving out the time to read about the latest happenings in law can seem like something you’ll get to right after you finish clearing off your desk. After all, if anything big happens, you’ll hear about it, right? Well, maybe, and maybe not. The best lawyers are up-to-date on the latest developments in the law. That’s why teaching in some capacity is often on the résumé of good lawyers. Twenty-four-year-old law students armed with a quick wit and a search engine have a way of keeping people sharp.
The Ones Who Read Above the Law. Because it’s not only important to keep up with legal developments, but also about the latest law prof selling meth and whatever is going on at Charlotte School of Law, right? (The most amazing thing to me about that story is that the law prof selling meth wasn’t at Charlotte School of Law.)
- Who is your underwriter?
- What is the claims experience of your title insurance provider?
- Do you know whether the non-title insurance premium fees you are paying are fair and reasonable?