Here’s another perfectly valid and good reason for lawyers to
consider going to work for a big law firm. . . they’re a GREAT place to
hang out your own shingle. No, I’m not crazy. You read that right, big
law firms are great places to hang out your own shingle. It’s all a
matter of perception. Let me explain. . .
Let’s say you’re just getting out of law school, or maybe you’ve
been out for awhile but your solo law firm hasn’t been performing for
you as well as you might have hoped. Do you struggle out there on your
own, ordering your own office supplies, managing your own IT,
negotiating with your own landlord and managing your staff all by
yourself, all the while trying to find time to practice law and have a
Well, if that’s you then having a life is probably the first thing
that got sacrificed a long time ago. So let’s take that out of the
equation when comparing big vs. solo practice for our hypothetical
lawyer who isn’t able to make enough rain to keep him/herself
Now we need to touch upon an important subject which is often
misunderstood by lawyers. Unfortunately, it’s a subject for which we
don’t have enough space to give justice, here in a short blog posting.
And that’s the subject of what it REALLY means to "own" or be a
"partner" in a law firm? In reality, the only thing the Owner(s) or
Partners of a big law firm actually "own" that is of any value, is the
ignorance of their associates who never learned how to make it rain
enough to be in a position to demand a piece of the pie for themselves.
Oh yeah, and a collection of used furniture, old computer equipment, a
lease obligation for the space, and a collection of accounts
receivables. And what do you suppose each Partners’ slice of all that
is really worth on the open market?
Now once you recognize that the only thing that REALLY separates the
Partners of big law firms from their Associates, is the ability to
generate enough business to cover their own overhead and make a profit
for the firm, it becomes clear that it’s perfectly possible to hang out
your own shingle in a big law firm.
Do you have to sacrifice some of the freedoms of being completely
out on your own? Sure you do. But the trade-offs can be well worth it
if you manage the relationship well and go into it with your eyes open.
And keep in mind that just because you’re bound by someone else’s rules
today, doesn’t mean you will have to still be bound by those rules
tomorrow. If you learn how to generate enough business to have a say in
the matter, that is.
So how does one go about hanging out his/her own shingle in a big
law firm? The Answer: Become a Rainmaker. Were you hoping for a more
complicated answer? Sorry to disappoint you, but that’s it. . . Just
bring in roughly double what you take out of the firm and for all
practical purposes, you’ve achieved "solo" status. That is to say, you
can begin to have a say on the rules of the firm which affect you,
because at that point, the firm needs you as much as you need them.
When you bring in three times what you take out, you can have a say
on the rules of the firm that govern the lawyers who your work is
keeping busy. Because at that point, those lawyers need you more than
you need them. And when you tip the scales and are able to bring in
more than three times what you take out of the firm, that’s when you
make the transition and either become a "Partner" in a big law firm, or
go out on your own and open your own shop because you want to have a
say in the rules of all the lawyers in a law firm, except of course for
the ones who bring in twice what they’re taking out of the place.
So there you have it. Think of working for a big firm as owning your
own shop in a mall. The mall takes care of security, HVAC, basic
insurance, and maintenance of the roof over your head. And in exchange
you agree to run your shop in accordance with mall rules. But inside
your own four walls YOU still get to make all the important rules about
strategy and how you prioritize your finite resources of time, energy
So to any lawyers reading this or any of the other many great blogs
for solos, if you’re ever tempted to feel like bashing (or being
jealous of) lawyers in big law firms, remember that we’re ALL bound by
the same Golden Rule Of Law Firm Management: Whoever Controls The
Golden Clients Rules The Law Firm.