In Praise of Mom Firms

How Mom Attorneys Will Revolutionalize Legal Service Delivery

shutterstock_46791400Mom Firms, small/solo law practices consisting of accomplished female Biglaw refugees, can offer corporate/insurance clients greater efficiency, more control over file management, and superior attorney quality at more reasonable rates.  The Mom Firm “lean and green” business model also stands as the antidote to well-known Biglaw billing abuses.

The Biglaw Brain Drain

One afternoon at Biglaw, I looked around and wondered, where did the exceedingly bright women with excellent academic credentials, strong litigation “chops”, and superb legal pedigrees go?  After all, over 15 years earlier when I started out, nearly half of my law school classmates and contemporaries were women.  But then, as we scratched our way up the law firm pyramid, our numbers dwindled markedly.  Each year, one or two women just went: some went in-house in search of work-life balance; some went into government service; and many others chucked their promising legal careers entirely, convinced that work-family balance is unattainable in Law.

Statistics confirm the brain-drain in private law practice.  Women earn 47.3% of the J.D. degrees and constitute roughly 45% of the associates in private practice.  As women try to advance, however, the picture changes markedly. Women account for only 20% of law firm partners, with just 15% achieving the equity partner ranks.  More telling, less than 4% of Biglaw’s managing partners are women.  Read more here: Why women leave matters, but ultimately, the point is that women have left private practice in droves, and Biglaw, in particular, has suffered a tremendous loss of talent and valuable perspective.

The Birth of Mom Firms

 Eventually, I, like many other women, fell off the law firm pyramid due to origination credit battles, and the often-irreconcilable demands of family, firm “face time”, and strict billable hour quotas.  But as litigator who spent years developing clients and perfecting specialized knowledge and skills, leaving my private practice behind was simply not an option. And so, in June of 2012, I set up my own “Mom Firm” where I continue to represent corporate clients and insurance carriers in a manner that (1) has proven far more cost-effective than the Biglaw service delivery model; and (2) allows me to balance the needs of my family (e.g., two kids, law school sweetheart husband, and a terrier named “Chuck”) with a law practice that I enjoy.

 Looking around this year, I’ve noticed “Mom Firms” everywhere—small or solo practices of talented female attorneys who booted Biglaw, but preserved their corporate and/or insurance-based litigation practices.  Virtually all of them struggled for years to fit their families into their Biglaw practices, before figuring out that they can have it all on their own terms.

Here’s what Mom Firms have figured out:

  1. Technology has eliminated the need for Biglaw’s resources, such as legions of support staff, expensive long-term commercial leases, server hugging, highly paid marketing personnel, etc.  In reality, it costs less than $25,000 annually to have state-of-the-art equipment, billing support, legal research capabilities, and high-end document and trial management software. Sophisticated “lean and green” law practices use technology to reduce infrastructural costs, to enhance efficiency, and to facilitate client communication and accessibility.
  2. Mom Firms can make good money at reasonable attorney rates, but Biglaw cannot largely due to high legacy costs.  In fact, the biggest legacy cost crippling Biglaw’s profitability today is the growing legion of senior partners atop the law firm “pyramid” who demand compensation wholly incommensurate with their actual contributions.  Mom Firm attorneys reap the profits of their own billed hours, allowing them to work less and make more.
  3. Mom Firm attorneys seldom work under billable hour quotas, the source of Biglaw bad billing behavior.  In fact, most left Biglaw to unburden themselves of the 2,000-hour billable hour yoke and to balance the needs of clients, cases and family on their own schedule.  Mom Firm attorneys can make excellent money billing less than 1,000 hours per year, allowing them to focus on delivering results, not maximizing profits-per-partner.
  4. Mom Firms are agile:  they can answer basic administrative, marketing and billing questions, without diverting clients to Biglaw departments in faraway cities.  They can make decisions, without invoking multi-layered decision protocols.
  5. Mom Firm attorneys focus on relationships with clients, not firm politics and billable hour quotas, as the recipe for success.  Biglaw, however, elevates the billed attorneys over the skilled ones, able to resolve a client’s problem quickly and efficiently.  And so, at Biglaw, billed attorneys thrive and the skilled ones leave, chasing success based on metrics they respect.

 Corporate counsel and insurance carriers complain bitterly about Biglaw “churn and burn” practices, while simultaneously underwriting them with each case referral.  Several, I’m told, steer clear of hiring “solos” and “smalls” entirely, based on myths about the value of Biglaw resources and reputation.  Mom Firms, however, stand as one antidote to Biglaw abuses. They offer high attorney quality, reasonable rates, greater control over file management, better billing accountability, and the capability to access information at their fingertips.  Ultimately, Mom Firms have figured out how to balance it all, while redefining how legal services are delivered and billed for the benefit of business.