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Sorry, Rainmakers Don't Sit at Home in PJs

Vivia Chen

May 8, 2017

87-1243112379AbeTCan we get real?

I'm talking about the fantasy that lawyers can drop out of the rat race, run off with the firms' clients and make buckets of money. All from their cozy apartment, beach house or suburban manse.

The latest group to feed this fantasy are "virtual" law firms—institutions that offer little more than an internet shingle (no office, no computers, no marketing). One such firm is Culhane Meadows, which Am Law Daily reports ("Stay-at-Home-Rainmakers: A Growing Threat to Big Law" ) is attracting "a horde of Big Law refugees" by promising them flexibility and big returns (80 percent of their billings).

No doubt, virtual firms are growing and big firm alums are joining the flock. But are they "increasingly competing with Big Law for both rainmakers and work from Fortune 100 clients"?

Not to be a killjoy, but the idea of a big rainmaker in the clouds giving Big Law a run for its money sounds like, well, pie-in-sky. Not to mention, a tad fluffy.

Yet, Kevin Broyles, the co-founder of virtual firm FisherBroyles, is telling Big Law to watch out. He told Am Law Daily that a partner with a $20 million book of business is considering joining his firm. "It’s going to explode," he gushes. "And people will say, wow, if a guy who has $20 or $25 million can make that move, then someone who has $10 million or $15 million can make that move. It’s coming."

A firm without so much as an office in a strip mall reeling in a $20 million rainmaker? Sounds mighty Trumpian to me.

Wouldn't someone with that scale of business need some conventional support—like associates, paralegal and secretaries? And why would a lawyer with that huge book (or even one with a mere million) need to go to FisherBroyles? Is it the Cravath, Swaine & Moore of the clouds?

The Big Law alums going to virtual firms tend to be more modest, say industry experts.

"They are probably income partners or someone who's been de-equitized," says law firm consultant Peter Zeughauser. And if they have business, it's likely that the amount is well under $1 million, he explains, adding, "their work usually doesn't support the rates of big firms."

Says a senior recruiter in Washington: "Most people who've gone this route are people who've been asked to leave their firm. I'm highly skeptical that any top-flight rainmaker are leaving their firms to join these place."

Indeed, it's hard to believe that anyone with a modicum of knowledge about law firms is buying the virtual firm hype.

But hey, I can understand its allure. It feeds into the myth that there's this thing call work/life balance out there. And it feeds into lawyers' need to find a less painless way to make money and have some control over their lives.

Besides, who wouldn't want a big, beautiful, lucrative career while lounging around in silk pajamas?




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I'm skeptical of both sides. I can see that BIGLAW would have a vested interest in making this seem like a pipe dream...

Finley Kumble.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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