Peter Chaffetz and David Lindsey, founders and partners at newly formed boutique Chaffetz Lindsey could have simply hopped into another big firm life boat after their former firm, Clifford Chance hit stormy weather last year. Instead, they took another course: they launched a boutique that is thriving even as the economy struggles to recover. This article in the New York Law Journal reports on the firm’s beginnings and subsequent growth.
The New York Law Journal article offers a good description of sources of work that are typical for big firm lawyers turned solo. These include:
1. Conflicts work. Chaffetz and Lindsey explain that most of their cases arrive through referrals generated by conflicts. These days, other large firms that the pair viewed as competitors while at biglaw are now regarded as rich referral sources.
2. Lower billing rates. No matter how much the experts try to tell you that price doesn’t matter, a smaller firm’s ability to charge less than biglaw is an enormous selling point. As one Chaffetz Lindsey client told the New York Law Journal: “Given that I was getting the same lawyer [from the large firm] for a lower billing rate, it was attractive to me.” In fact, many biglaw turned solos find that clients accustomed to their biglaw billing rates generally send more work to them as solos because it simply doesn’t cost as much.
3. Lower labor costs and no leverage. In this market, Chaffetz and Lindsey are able to pay their three associates less than the prevailing starting strategies. For larger matters, rather than gear up with new hires, the firm has made arrangements for added support from a Buffalo, New York based firm, where rates are lower.
4. Less overhead. Chaffetz & Lindsey aren’t a virtual practice. Still, they’ve managed to locate below market rents because of the glut of office space.
Recipe for Success: Perhaps, Chaffetz & Lindsey are experiencing uncommonly positive growth because of longstanding industry connections. But their recipe for success is common: low labor costs, reduced overhead, mining conflicts and lower billing rates. Biglaw lawyers considering going solo would do well to take a page out of Chaffetz & Lindsey’s cook book.
Bonus: More resources on biglaw to solo.