Every deal lawyer has had the experience. The deal negotiations have gone on longer than anyone expected. Frustration is setting in. At that point, one of the individuals involved, more likely to be one of the principals instead of an attorney, demands an all-hands, in-person meeting to get the deal done, and “we’re not leaving until we have a deal.” This impulse, while understandable, is often misguided and can lead to additional frustration.
Writing in Above the Law, Jordan Rothman argues from personal experience that solo lawyers would be better off partnering in a law firm with one or more other attorneys. As someone who has operated partner-less for almost 10 years now, after Big Law partner experience (where one literally doesn’t know many of one’s partners because there are so many of them), I’ve seen different arrangements and have some thoughts on these issues. While there are some clear advantages to having partners, much of Rothman’s argument is based on an unduly restrictive assumption about how solo firms must operate.
In some ways, my law firm, Andrew Abramowitz, PLLC, is at the forefront of recent changes in the delivery of legal services. For example, the firm operates virtually, with the staff attorneys toiling away at home (or wherever – they could be doing it while hang-gliding as long as they do the job well and promptly, as far as I’m concerned). The ability to get the work done without housing everyone in an expensive Manhattan leased space gives the firm flexibility to offer more competitive rates than traditional firms.
When I am estimating costs for a project for prospective clients, particularly those new to the formation of business entities and deal-doing, a common source of confusion is why there needs to be a fee paid to my law firm as well as to a corporate service company like CT Corporation or CSC. So, I thought it would be useful to briefly outline the different roles that each of us plays in the creation and maintenance of entities.
I am very much a member of the target audience of Billions, the Showtime drama about the intersection of law and finance in New York. As a corporate lawyer with the professional background to decipher at least some of the dense jargon, I sometimes have to suspend disbelief at the plot twists, including a U.S. Attorney who doesn’t recuse himself from a criminal investigation of a hedge fund that employs his wife, as well as a coordinated FBI mass arrest of politicians at a funeral service.
On Twitter recently, a journalist asked for suggestions from other journalists on what advice one should give to college students looking to pursue that field. The TV critic Emily Nussbaum replied “I tell them not to take advice from anyone over 50, bc the industry has changed so much that our career paths aren’t replicable and our advice doesn’t match the landscape.” Is the same true for established lawyers advising students considering law as a career? (If true, I have about a year and a half left, as of this writing, in which I am capable of providing relevant and useful guidance to the young.)
Over the holidays, I finally got around to reading Bad Blood, the story of the rise and fall of the blood testing startup Theranos and its founder, Elizabeth Holmes, written by the Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, John Carreyrou, who broke the story that led to the company’s downfall. I cannot recommend the book more highly. However, you’re not here for book reviews, so let’s move on.
One of the reasons that Theranos was able to evade deep scrutiny for so long was the roster of its board of directors. At various times, the board included George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, Bill Frist, James Mattis and David Boies. For purposes of this post, I have not provided the affiliations of all of these directors, but take my word for it if you don’t recognize some names: like them or not, they are all serious machers. I remember reading one or two laudatory profiles of Theranos and Holmes pre-scandal and being impressed with whom they had attracted to the company.
In a recent transaction that I worked on – obviously, I can’t give too much detail to protect client confidentiality – I noticed a weird dynamic. In a typical negotiation, when the lawyers from each side are speaking without the principals present, there is some degree of emotional detachment from the ultimate outcome, even though each attorney knows his or her role is to represent the client’s interest. Lawyers will say, for example, that it’s not worth continuing to argue about a particular bone of contention because it is a “business issue” that needs to be worked out by the principals. However, in this transaction, the other attorney, though he was unfailingly polite and even-keeled, would make fairly routine requests from our side seem thoroughly unreasonable, putting me on the defensive.
Carolyn Elefant, writing in Above the Law, takes to task those solo lawyers who, to use her phrase, “play the solo card” by using their firm’s smallness as an excuse for sub-standard service. I don’t know enough to weigh in on the specific case that triggered her piece, a solo attorney who tried to excuse a late filing by citing Microsoft Word technical issues. There certainly have been large firms that have tried to make excuses as a result of their network crashing or the like. However, I completely agree with Elefant’s overarching point that small firms should not assume that their clients and others will accept second-class service just because of the size of the firm.
When I am assisting a client on a matter, and the help of a legal specialist is needed (tax, above all else, but many other areas as well), the client will often be reluctant to loop in the other attorneys and will urge me to handle it. While I’d like to think that this is a reflection of the client’s respect for my abilities, I’m sure it’s in part based on a fear that bringing on another attorney will drive up legal costs. I don’t think this is necessarily the case, and in any event, scrimping on getting the right advice can create substantive issues that cost far more in the long run.