Thanks to a lemon of a credit market, associates at McKee Nelsonhave the opportunity to make a huge vat of life-changing lemonade. Above the Law’s David Lat is reporting here that NY/DC based McKee Nelson, in an effort to avoid economically-induced, forced associate layoffs, is offering associates two options: (1) a full bonus, plus four months pay to anyone willing to leave the firm voluntarily or (2) a full bonus plus a year’s sabbatical at 40 percent of the $160,000 salary. Option 2 carries two caveats; first, the firm cannot guarantee employment at the end of the year and second, the firm wants associates to use the sabbatical to “make the world a better place.”
Lat suggests that associates use the time to fulfill their dreams of finishing a novel, or studying painting. But I’ve got a better idea: what about starting your own law firm and becoming the lawyer you always wanted to be?
With a $25,000 bonus and a $60,000 salary, MN associates who decide to go solo would have the luxury of building a practice the right way, without ever having to spend a minute specializing in “threshhold law” (i.e., taking any client who crosses the thresshold). They could develop an interesting specialty, devote time to starting a blog, handle court appointed cases to get courtroom experience, devote time to building the kinds of relationships that generate referrals and invest in the infrastructure, such as adequate malpractice insurance, computerized legal research and quality laptops and mobile work equipment (notice that I don’t mention Class A office space here, because to me, it’s not integral) that would help insure success. And they’d have the time and resources to spend on CLEs and marketing classes to help ensure success.
Would starting a law firm qualify for McKee Nelson’s requirement of “making the world a better place?” Absolutely. Because these new solos might find the kind of autonomy and happiness that may have eluded them at a larger firm, plus, they’d set an example for other disatisfied lawyers to follow. And liberated from the overhead of requirements of large firms, these new solos could offer top service at lower rates to more clients, thus improving the quality of legal representation and expanding access to law. Finally, if…and when these MN solos decided to return to their former firm (assuming it’s still around), they could apply their newly found marketing skills and hands on experience that would fuel the firm’s growth. In fact, maybe this concept of funding associates to start their own firms and gain experience on their own time may serve as a potential business model for biglaw.
To my fellow solo bloggers, I offer this fantasy question: how would you advise a lawyer with a $25,000 bonus and $60k income to spend that money if they decided to start a firm? If you post a response at your site, please send the link in the comments below. MN associates, check back here or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org you think that starting a firm may be an option for you.