Quimbee Gets an F for Hiring BigLaw Attorneys to Teach Trial Advocacy and Business Development and Marketing

Quimbee bills itself as the only study guide for law students, “hell-bent” on helping every student to get an A. Too bad that Quimbee’s most recent venture – creating content to teach law students practice and business skills gets an F. Why? Because Quimbee only wants big law firm attorneys as instructors. #FAIL!

Quimbee’s ad , (posted at ATL, natch) states that the company seeks “attorneys from BigLaw or Am Law 100 firms to teach courses” on two types of topics: practice skills (including depositions, e-discovery, dispute resolution, project management and legal research and trial advocacy) and business skills (business development, client development and law-firm specific sales and marketing). The position is 100 percent remote, and those hired will “create a syllabus, then write scripts that Quimbee will “turn into amazing video lessons.”  Candidates must not only have 10 years of big law experience, but must be currently employed at a large firm.  So what’s wrong with that picture?

Plenty. For starters, most big law attorneys simply don’t have the business development, client development or sales experience that scrappy solo and small firm lawyers have. Instead, nearly every AmLaw 100 firm has a marketing department that does much of the grunt work for its attorneys. A few years back, I attended a renewable energy conference, dutifully approaching new people and circulating my card. During one conversation with an acquaintance and potential client, a law firm marketer barged into the conversation, passed her card to my colleague and asked if she could schedule him for a short meet and greet with lawyers from her firm sometime during the conference. As this experience taught me, something as simple but pedestrian as pressing the flesh in search of business large firm attorneys. Indeed, some big firm attorneys can’t even be bothered to find their own links to post on sites like LinkedIn, thus leading to the creation of services that can let firm marketers do it for them.

Big firms also have enormous marketing budgets. For an AmLaw 100 firm, it’s pocket change to pony up $5000 to “pay for play” so that one of their lawyers can speak on a panel at an industry conference. Marketing dollars at big firms flow like rain – for sponsorships in the trade press, tables at charity events and support staff to help big firm attorneys organize bar event.

Meanwhile, take a look  Quimbee’s institutional clients:  Florida State, American University, Texas A&M, and University of Illinois. They’re all solid schools that produce great graduates (something I know from personal experience) but let’s face it- all but a small percentage of lawyers from these firms will snag a job at an AmLaw 100 firm. And I suspect that Quimbee’s other customers are from similar level schools, where grades matter much more for one’s career future.  Students from these schools need to learn business development and marketing skills, but they need to learn how to do it without the deep pockets and administrative backing of big law.

That’s where new grads and young attorneys could really learn from successful solos and smalls. We have plenty of practice at marketing since we’re out hustling business every day, often employing creative and low cost strategies.  Solo and small firm lawyers are also, by necessity, more innovative, and have always been at the forefront of marketing trends like websites, blogging and social media.

Moreover, even if Quimbee only wants to focus on teaching skills to market big-law practice areas, that’s no excuse to overlook solos. As it happens, many solos and smalls fish in the same waters as large firms, handling complex matters – international tax, employment, IP and patent litigation, securities law, federal appeals and (in my case) energy regulatory work – once dominated by large firms. As result, solos and smalls are equally competent to teach large firms how to attract clients in these practice areas as well.

As for the other topics for which Quimbee seeks instructors, some – like e-discovery, depositions and even legal research – are arguably appropriate for big law instructors.  Since big firm litigation practice consists largely of discovery (e-discovery and depositions), hiring big firm lawyers as instructors for these topics makes sense. By contrast, even many seasoned solo and small firm trial lawyers don’t have similar skills because their cases aren’t sufficiently complex to warrant e-discovery, while their clients can’t afford dozens of depositions, standard practice for a big law matter.

With respect to legal research, students could benefit from both big firm and solo instructors. Big law attorneys have access to, and experience with expensive research packages (like Lex Machina> and other analytics and high-end programs) while solos and smalls are more likely to be familiar with Fastcase, Google Scholar and basic LEXIS and Westlaw packages.

On the other hand, why draw only from big law for instructors on trial advocacy and legal writing? Many large firm attorneys actually don’t have much trial experience unless they’ve come from Department of Justice or an Attorney General’s Office. As for legal writing, I’ve not been impressed by most of the briefs I’ve seen out of large firms. In any event, for a course like legal writing, it would make more sense to hire instructors who earn a living exclusively from  legal research and writing, rather than lawyers who don’t write as frequently.

Finally, I have to wonder what kind of attorney currently employed at big law would have the time or inclination to work for Quimbee.  Seems to me that the big firm attorneys most interested in this kind of gig either have time on their hands because they haven’t been able to attract enough business, or are on their way out because they haven’t been able to attract enough business. Neither profile necessarily makes for a qualified instructor.

Quimbee’s transition from creating study guides to help students in law school to developing programs to help them in the business world makes sense. But the competencies that can help students to succeed in law school are very different from those that yield success in the work world. That’s a lesson that Quimbee has yet to learn.