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The $100,000 Law Firm

by Carolyn Elefant on February 27, 2009 · 3 comments

in Biglaw Practice and Issues, Encouragement

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Imagine having $100,000 to start a law firm.  That’s the consolation prize for the 190 associates laid off today by Latham and Watkins:  six months of severance pay, capped at $100,000, reports AmLaw Daily. I realize that when you’re saddled with student loans and the accoutrements of a biglaw lifestyle, $100,000 doesn’t seem all that rich.  But for those of us, myself included, who lauched our firms with student loans and car and mortgage payments hanging over our heads, even $10,000 would have made a huge difference.

Still, I also know that getting laid off is no fun and no matter how much money a firm shells out to soften the blow.  After all, it’s the ego, not the budget, that takes the real bruising in a layoff and no amount of reassurances by colleagues or bravado on your own part can eliminate those niggling doubts that maybe you just weren’t good enough.  So go ahead and sulk for a few days – you’re entitled.

But once that’s out of your system, consider this.  You have a chance to reinvent yourself, to create something new that’s never existed and be the lawyer you always wanted to be.  And what’s more, some of you actually have the resources to see it through.  After all, who ever heard of an independent contract drafting commentator and consultant, before Ken Adams designed that position for himself?  Or a high-powered litigator-turned successful mediator like Victoria Pynchon?  Or a solo who practiced Supreme Court litigation exclusively like Tom Goldstein at (now) Howe & Russell? Or an energy regulatory attorney who runs a trade association and handles occasional 1983 civil rights actions and writes books and blogs (that would be me!)

What do you want to do – argue Supreme Court cases?  Rescue victims of the housing crisis from foreclosure?  Handle class actions?  Try cases?  Negotiate big deals.  Make precedent?  Run a small, neighborhood law practice? All of these options are possibilities, they truly are.  But you have to break from those who lack the vision or imagination to see that these possibilities.

So when the head hunters tell you there’s a tight job market, shut your ears.  Because there’s no competition for a job which hasn’t yet been announced at a firm that doesn’t yet exist.  That position is yours for the taking, provided of course, that you create it.

If you are thinking about starting a firm, you can download my free ebooks on this topic here (inspiration for lawyers and social networking for lawyers) or here (From Biglaw to Yourlaw).

  • http://lawyermarketing.attorneysync.com/blog gyi tsakalakis

    This is exactly the “yes we can” attitude that we need in today’s troubled market.
    Newly freed BigLaw’ers, the resources are out there. Take advantage.

  • John Thompson

    Carolyn:
    This is a great post. I am 28 years old straddled with student loans and a mortgage payment and I will be launching my own law firm this summer. I think it is the nature of the work that makes attorneys so risk adverse, but with so many opportunities out there now to innovate and a huge population of the public not being served by the legeal community I think this is a great time to dive right in!

  • http://negotiationlawblog.com Vickie Pynchon

    Carolyn,
    Great post, indeed (and thanks for the shout out).
    The idea that any lawyer could be “out of work” just because a law firm laid him/her off is as foreign to me today as being anything other than an employee was twenty years ago.
    But I have to blush a bit when I’m cited as someone who took layoff adversity and transformed it into a happy and successful Vickie, Inc. when in fact what I did was just to get another job.
    What made that job life-changing was not what it WAS but what it wasn’t. It WASN’T completely consuming. I had half the money but twice the free time to do what I needed to do to BEGIN to move toward an occupation in which I would some day thrive.
    THAT’s the opportunity laid-off lawyers have today. I took the time the ’92 recession gave me and pursued fiction writing which gave me literature back. Having literature — and creative writing back – I needed my evenings back. And to have my evenings back, I had to give up some bad habits. Having given up those bad habits, I had to acquire new life-skills. The new skills gave rise to different opportunities, which I had the time and the growing wisdom, to pursue or not.
    So maybe the $100K for the laid off attorneys won’t be used to open a law practice but to pursue an MBA or enroll in acting school; to spend a year in a foreign country building schools for children or teaching English; or even doing something as apparently “selfish” as taking a month-long trek in Nepal. Or maybe it’s simply being the parent who now stays at home while the other works. The choices are endless. And the movement we make can be made, as ever, only one step at a time.
    Best of luck to everyone. There’s not a morning these days when I don’t wake up thinking of lawyers being battered by the economy because they/we are still my people, my tribe.

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