Legal & Government Affairs Managing Principal Steve Nelson weighs in on how to make a successful law firm.
By Matthew Bultman | August 1, 2016
Launching your own law firm can be a daunting task, and assembling the right team of lawyers to bring along is no easy part. There are rules and ethical obligations to consider, not to mention making sure you will all get along. But with the right planning, and perhaps a bit of cajoling, you can be on your way to building an all-star cast, experts say.
Here are some tips for branching out on your own and bringing the best attorneys with you.
Understand the Rules
There are often strict ethical rules and obligations about approaching other attorneys to come to a new firm. These rules can vary from state to state and even from firm to firm.
Before you do anything else, take a close look at your current firm’s partnership agreement and what is required in your jurisdiction. Experts say it’s not a bad idea to hire outside counsel to help guide you through the process.
“I would recommend that strongly to anybody thinking about doing this,” said Ellen Reisman, a former attorney at Arnold & Porter LLP who last spring helped launch Reisman Karron Greene LLP, a boutique focusing on complex litigation. “In your jurisdiction, get good outside counsel who can talk to you about the ethical rules, and be aware of what your current partnership agreement requires.”
Robert O’Brien of Larson O’Brien LLP agreed it can be helpful to get a clean set of eyes on the partnership agreement, whether it be from a friend at another firm or a lawyer who specializes in partnership dissolutions and lateral moves.
O’Brien, who started Larson O’Brien earlier this year with other former Arent Fox LLP attorneys, added that it might be good to structure some things around your obligations under the partnership agreement, such as when you will provide notice to the firm that you plan to leave.
“I think carefully reviewing the partnership agreement to find out what your duties are, potentially bringing in outside counsel to advise on that, is well worth doing,” he said.
Make Sure Styles Mesh
Beyond studying up on the rules and ethical obligations, Attorney Career Catalysts founder Frank Michael D’Amore said, attorneys need to do their homework on the people they are considering bringing on board.
Oftentimes, attorneys will look to other people within their current firm, so they know how they work and their abilities as a lawyer. But other factors to consider might not be as obvious. What, for example, is their tolerance for risk? Are they entrepreneurial? Business-savvy?
“It’s a special breed that’s not only willing to do this but that can thrive,” D’Amore said.
It’s also crucial for attorneys in the new firm to have good chemistry, according to D’Amore. Try to gauge the working relationship, not just now but also where it might be down the road.
“You can see some really good lawyers go out and start a firm, but if they don’t have the personalities to do it, and they also don’t mesh from a personality standpoint, it’s very likely it’s going to fail,” he said.
Steve Nelson of The McCormick Group Inc. seconded that idea, saying it becomes all the more important in a small-firm environment that work styles don’t clash. Beyond making sure there is a practice fit in terms of experience, “I think it really is an individual feel as to whether it makes sense or not,” he said