USAC Banner 728x90



No announcement yet.

Solo Story: A Chat With Big-Firm Refugee Mitchell Matorin

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Solo Story: A Chat With Big-Firm Refugee Mitchell Matorin

    So what, exactly, are all these lawyers who’ve been laid off from BigLaw doing now? It’s a grab bag, of course. Some we know have latched on to judicial clerkships. Others have gone back to school in other disciplines; still others have taken their practices in new directions. And many, we imagine, are waiting for the ice to thaw on this economy, at which point their former employers, they presumably hope, will realize just how badly they were missed and hire them back at their 2007-level salaries. For now, it’s a lot of Netflixed Entourage and rediscovering the joys of homemade pasta.

    But one trend we haven’t exactly seen, to our mild surprise, is a rush of youngish lawyers heading out on their own, setting up solo shops, with little but a shingle and a Gmail account. We don’t exactly know why there hasn’t been a mass move to solo practice, but we imagine it has something to do with the fact that, well, it seems flat-out insane. Granted, the mean partners are gone, but there’s rent to pay, printers to fix, books to buy and, of course, clients to get. In other words, there’s a business to run, which, frankly, is a proposition that scares the bejeezus out of us — and probably a host of others law-school grads as well, risk-averse souls that we are.

    But setting up a solo practice can be done. And you don’t have to be a tireless and schmoozy huckster to set one up. We learned that today from talking to Mitchell Matorin, who left Foley Hoag LLP in 2007 to launch his own practice, the Matorin Law Office LLC. We left the conversation thinking it’s something, frankly, that’s probably not for everyone, but something more folks should be thinking about. Matorin (Wash U, Duke Law), worked in the DOJ’s Civil Division, then at Morgan Lewis & Bockius and Foley Hoag before setting out on his own. Here’s how our chat went down:

    Hi Mitchell, thanks for taking the time. So you’re at Foley Hoag in 2007. Walk us through how you made the decision to leave and start your own firm.

    It’s not something I’d really ever thought about. I knew people who were entrepreneurial and had done it, but I never thought of myself as being like that. I was more a traditional law student. I went from a clerkship to the Justice Department to a law firm because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do.

    But I take it you weren’t happy at a big firm?

    I was happy at the Justice Department, but I was less happy when I went into private practice. The firms where I worked are wonderful firms, but I was never one for office politics, and I never felt really in control of my own destiny. Also, I’d started doing a lot of patent litigation. I hadn’t been trained in that, really, and I sort of longed for the days at the DOJ, when the work was a little more varied. It really was a gradual and increasing level of unhappiness.

    I was casting about. I looked at in-house positions, and thought about leaving the law altogether. It sort of came to a head when I realized one day that I kind of wanted to be fired. That’s when I decided it was time to go.

    And you decided to go solo, eh?

    Yeah. I wanted to see if I could get back the enjoyment I’d had practicing law earlier in my career, and thought this was probably the best way to try to do that.

    Now, take the time to describe yourself. Would you describe yourself as a risk-taker?

    Oh, no. Not at all. I’m generally very risk averse and conservative. And I’m not a schmoozer at all. I think I’m like a lot of people who wind up at big law firms.

    Still, you decided to make a go of this. How’d you know what to do?

    Well, I started with the Web. I found some sites that cater to solo practitioners. One is Carolyn Elefant’s MyShingle site, another is an email list-serv set up by the ABA called SoloSez. I basically got pretty active on that site and found a nationwide and worldwide network of solo practitioners and small-firm attorneys. The people on this were hugely supportive. I sort of hung out there lurking around until I stumbled on a local group of lawyers in the Boston area.

    I started going to dinners and talking to others within this group, all of whom were very supportive. I learned, actually, that the worst that would happen is that I would go bankrupt!

    Seriously, it was a difficult decision. I had a mortgage and two kids and I didn’t come away from the firm with the savings I should have. I wasn’t going to bring clients with me from Foley, they were mostly big clients working on huge patent-litigation matters.

    Makes me nervous just thinking about it. Did you lose any sleep over this?

    Oh, I had plenty of sleepless nights, but the strange thing was that as soon as I quit and started out, I became less nervous. I found some office space [in Needham, Mass., outside Boston] about a mile from home, and opened it up. I found myself with an office with a desk and a phone and I sat down one day and thought “now what?”

    So what’d you do?

    I set up a Web site and waited. I networked through the solo sites, and started developing a reputation among the others as being reasonably intelligent and helpful, I suppose, and then I started getting referrals. I was asked to serve as local counsel for an attorney in Arizona, and got a case from another solo practitioner in the Boston area. Over time, I’ve also gotten a good number of referrals from Foley and simply through word of mouth.

    Did you do any marketing?

    Not really. I’m not much of a marketer. I just started interacting with other lawyers and it slowly built on itself. Between June 2007, when I started, and October 2007, I wasn’t that busy, but I wasn’t panicking. The solo community really gave me a lot of support.

    And here we are, two years later. You’re surviving, eh?

    I am. My salary is about what I’d be making at a firm. But I’m working a lot fewer hours. I have very little overhead. My rent is low and that’s basically my overhead. That and the telephone. I try to keep my office paperless, and that allows me to be pretty efficient.

    The thing is, and what I started doing early on, is writing down a billable rate and multiplying it by hours. It was comforting. In other words, if I charge $300 an hour and bill only 1000 hours, that’s $300,000. The trick is getting those 1000 hours, of course.

    And your practice area?

    Business and commercial litigation, mostly. I’m also working on some appellate work, which I did quite a bit of at Morgan Lewis.

    I’d imagine that not every second-year associate can just go out and hang out a shingle. They’d have to learn how to run a business and practice law at the same time. So at what point would you say someone’s got enough legal seasoning to do this?

    It’s hard to say. A lot of it depends on when each attorney thinks he or she is ready. Of course if all you’ve done is document review and haven’t taken a deposition, you’re probably not ready.

    But I think more big-firm lawyers are ready to do this than they might imagine. For certain tasks, you really can market yourself as a substitute for a big firm. Law is a very prestige-driven industry. People hear you’ve got a clerkship, worked at a big firm, and they’re going to take a look at you over someone who hasn’t had those experiences, even if you’ve only worked at a big firm for five years or so. The pedigree is very influential when a client is picking between you and someone who might otherwise be comparably qualified.

    Still, lawyers don’t seem to move into solo practices. Why do you think that is?

    Part of it, I think, is the risk-averse thing. We’re all trained to want the prestige of a big name firm behind us and, frankly, solo practitioners are viewed skeptically by a lot of big-firm lawyers. That’s a mindset you’ve just got to overcome in order to do this.

    Any regrets?

    No regrets at all. I still have no idea where my next case is coming from, and it’s nervewracking in that sense, but I’m never all that worried. I just haven’t worried that much since I left. Once stuff started coming in, I’ve been able to make it work.

    Well, thanks much for taking the time.

    My pleasure.
Previously entered content was automatically saved. Restore or Discard.
Smile :) Stick Out Tongue :p Wink ;) Mad :mad: Big Grin :D Frown :( Embarrassment :o Confused :confused: Roll Eyes (Sarcastic) :rolleyes: Cool :cool: EEK! :eek:

the color of a pink dog is ... (write the answer twice with an "@" between the words)

widgetinstance 213 (Related Topics) skipped due to lack of content & hide_module_if_empty option.