Patently-O Bits and Bytes No. 38: New Blogs

20 thoughts on “Patently-O Bits and Bytes No. 38: New Blogs

  1. DC Prosecutor, when you are on your own, you know your future income is not assured. When you’re at a firm, the same thing is true, but it’s easier to put that truth out of your mind.

    Personally, I’ve been more comfortable looking at reality straight in the eyes.

  2. Andrew,

    Working from home seems to be viable for us mere patent scriveners. I don’t know how well it would work for most other areas of law. Trust me, though, I have thought about how much I could make while working minimal hours if I went out on my own and worked out of my home office.

    However, then I’d have to constantly worry about getting business. At my firm now, we have a ton of business and having work is never a concern.

  3. Anon, overhead is pretty low when you work from home (my approach since day one), and while malpractice insurance isn’t cheap, it’s a manageable expense. In my experience, solo practice is indeed quite peachy.

  4. But, I should think that the liability insurance and the overhead expenses are quite high, since they are not spread out over a large group of folks, no? My guess is that solo practice is nicer than BigLaw but not quite as peachy as you guys are making it out to be…

  5. That’s exactly right, GP. BigLaw is so expensive and carries such high overhead that a solo or small firm can make a killing even while working a lot fewer hours and charging clients much lower rates.

  6. Lots of great advice on this thread, and I agree with most of it.

    Remember – when you start your own practice, you don’t need to have 70 hours of work a week to make money.

    For example, if you bill at 200 an hour (cheap!) and you only have 10 hours of billables a week, that’s six figures, minus expenses.

    Keep expenses low, and you can live a rich life both in terms of free time and in terms of money.

  7. “I guess I was just more concerned with how one would drop all your work upon quitting and then magically be making ends meet by grabbing enough customers with your new business.”

    Like Andrew said, it’s about planning and resourcefulness. “Magic” only helps to make ends meet if you’re a magician.

  8. e6k, I started with no clients and no leads. I worked from a room in the back of my apartment. Fortunately, I had a wife working as a BigLaw associate, and a lot of individual inventors in need of contingency fee counsel.

  9. Thanks guys I was just using the word “stealing” as a figure of speech so you knew what I was talking about.

    In any case it seems fairly standard that you take at least some clients with you if you don’t suck. I guess I was just more concerned with how one would drop all your work upon quitting and then magically be making ends meet by grabbing enough customers with your new business. I mean how would you advertise etc? I hardly ever see anywhere near the amount of advertising that would lead me to believe there is some IP firm that just freshly started and wants new business. I suppose these are all just the normal headaches people that start a new firm are faced with but are overcome.

  10. e#6k,

    I believe the derogatory term of art is “poaching” your former firm’s clients — not stealing. If you draw clients from your old firm, then you might be accused of poaching.

  11. “I’m leaving to go to another/start my own firm, will you send your work to me?”

    When I left bigger D.C. firm for smaller one, D.C. ethics rules required that clients whom I was serving in the bigger firm be notified I was leaving and whether I would be willing to continue work on their cases. Also, it was required that clients be asked whether their files should remain with firm or go with me.

    If you have been giving value, are reasonably well-organized and have clients with whom you have a good personal relationship, enough clients will follow you. It’s wonderful to be able to say to some that you will not be available to do their work in the future.

    When I left smaller firm for solo practice, I began to enjoy practicing MUCH more. When law is to some extent less of a business, it is much more enjoyable for me. I now feel free to spend time learning more about the law and pursuing family and community service interests without worrying whether I will meet my “overhead commitment” to a firm.

    On the other hand, informal working arrangements with other independent and skilled solo attorneys with whom one shares a mutual desire to work together (you have not been thrown together involuntarily because the big firm has decided to admit the other guy/gal) can enrich one’s enjoyment of his/her practice GREATLY, provide needed backup and provide opportunities to help each other in serving your respective clients.

  12. 11APA, another interesting law firm expression is “eat what you kill”, which (as many here surely know) means a partner compensation system that richly rewards those partners who bring in business. I’m amazed at how often I hear lawyers use this expression with no sense of irony. The idea of lawyer as predator and client as prey is quite a twist on the notion of a fiduciary relationship.

  13. I know some small firm guys that have the same possessive attitude over clients as the BigLaw’s mentioned above.

    The reality is this – neither firms nor attorneys “own” clients. Instead, clients own matters and projects, and they hire outside counsel to help with those matters and projects. If you establish a track record of delivering quality work and you work hard at maintaining strong relationships, you’ll get AND maintain a good client base….but you will never “own” it.

    With a few clients on board, the small guy can focus on the aspect of his practice that separates him from the bigger firms. Why do clients want you instead of them? This is your value proposition, and can be anything, really. Some small firms are known for superior customer service, while others are known for providing services not traditionally offered by lawyers and firms. Many solos have unique experience and/or qualifications that simply can’t be found anywhere else. The key is to know and embrace your value proposition.

    Some gotchas on this point – by definition, the small firm’s value proposition can probably never be ‘raw capacity’. If you’re selling that (or willing to accept it when it lands on your doorstep), you won’t be a small firm for long, and you might end up as part of the BigLaw you ran away from. Also…be careful if your only value proposition is ‘low cost’. You might find yourself with a list of clients that focus nearly exclusively on cost and ignore any other advantages you might offer.

    Remember, too, that it doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. Many small firms and solos work for clients alongside a big firm. The client understands the value proposition offered by the small firm/solo, and chooses to work with both big and small to get the benefits offered by both. I know one such small firm extremely well. ;-)

    I hope this helps the discussion.

  14. Interesting choice of words, 6k. “Stealing” presumes the clients are the firm’s property. Most people would say it’s bad form to solicit clients while you’re at the firm (and you might have signed an agreement not to do that when you started work). But after you leave, your old clients are fair game.

    What’s interesting is that BigLaw has let their warped world-view permeate your mind so much that you would call it “stealing” when a client chooses to move its work from one firm to another. In the view of the typical BigLaw partner, if he got a lucky phone call 15 years ago from some in-house counsel he met at the yacht races or in a mahogany-paneled club room, then it’s doG’s will that he should spend the rest of his life selling other people’s labor at a 200% markup, and anyone who tries to take that away from him is “stealing.”

    I escaped from BigLaw years ago. I actually enjoyed my time there, but they made millions on me, so I never lost any sleep about walking out with a few of their F-500 clients to buy my freedom. The clients get better service, their stockholders pay less, and my former boss found an incentive to reintegrate himself into the labor market … so everyone is better off.

  15. e#6k, there was no client “stealing” potential for me. I went from being the junior litigator on big litigation teams to being a sole practitioner representing individual inventors. My old firm was never going to be representing the sorts of clients I’ve had.

    I suspect that the gents mentioned in this thread are starting practices that would draw clients from their old firms. That’s sometimes a touchy issue, but of course it’s a very common situation.

  16. There’s no such thing as “stealing clients.” Clients go where they wanna go.

    You cannot solicit clients of a firm while you are working at that firm. In other words, you cannot tell/ask a client, “I’m leaving to go to another/start my own firm, will you send your work to me?”

    Of course, as we’re talking about lawyers, there are an infinite number of ways of asking that very question without asking that question.

  17. AD et al. I have a question. How does one manage to get clients to support your new firm if you’re coming out of a big firm. I mean of course how does one do it without directly stealing the clients of the big firm.

  18. Thanks Andrew for the best wishes. I enjoyed my time in BigLaw and am grateful for the experience, but have learned that I fit best in a box that I have designed and built myself.

    I wish you continued success as well.

  19. Anyone else read the third bullet point as “believing that no further damage could be successfully inflicted on the utility patent process, the current Patent Office administration turned their attention to the design patent process . . .”

  20. Right on, Messrs. Buchanan & Boswell! I was nervous when I left BigLaw to start my own practice in 1995, but I knew that being on my own was really the only way I was going to enjoy practicing law.

    I wish you both tremendous success.

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