By Martha Neil
Seven BigLaw refugees urge potential clients to “reject convention” and utilize the services of their new intellectual property boutique on Feinberg Day Alberti & Thompson’s website.
Their Palo Alto, Calif., firm is unusual because it staffs every case with experienced patent litigation partners—Feinberg Day has no associates—and yet charges clients less than what they would have paid for the same work at the megafirm for which the partners formerly worked, according to attorney Marc Belloli. Flexible billing arrangements are also part of the mix, along with the efficiencies that come from putting a small team of seasoned colleagues on a project that makes use of their expertise.
However, in some ways the new firm is not only traditional but almost a relic of a bygone era—the seven partners will share equally in the firm’s profits and collectively decide how it should be operated, he tells the ABA Journal. And they expect routinely to be together at the office every day, unlike a number of lawyers who have formed small firms in order to gain more flexible work schedules or the opportunity to work offsite much of the time.
“It’s my understanding of the way partnerships were a very, very long time ago,” says Belloli of this now-unusual approach to small law firm life. “It’s a return to something that used to work and we think will work.”
One reason why the seven partners have faith in this plan is that they are all longtime friends, with a shared culture not only as longtime BigLaw colleagues but in a strong social group outside the office, he says. “We’re more present in each other’s lives outside of the office than you’ll see with a lot of law firms.”
Ranging in age from about 30 to 55, with most in their early forties, the partners all liked their former jobs at DLP Piper and Mayer Brown (most also originally worked together at Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich, before it merged with DLA Piper). However, they expect to like their new jobs even more, according to Belloli.
And, as economic forces have suddenly made small firms more competitive with the major firms that formerly reigned unchallenged over much of the corporate legal landscape, “if you’re ever going to take the chance and start your own firm, the time is now,” he says.
An economics major in college, Belloli says there will always be a place for major brands in law practice, as well as the small niche enterprises, just as international names and local entrepreneurs share the market for, say, supplying coffee and beer.
While his firm is handling a number of large litigation matters at the International Trade Commission and in federal district court throughout the country, along with local commercial litigation in northern California, there are some matters that inherently may be better-suited to BigLaw, he notes. And the Feinberg Day partners expect both to refer some work back to their former firms and to see some work come their way from their former colleagues.
“Even at big firms, we’ve run big cases leaner than seven attorneys,” he notes, and, just like large law firms, Feinberg Day can bring in contract lawyers, as appropriate. “But if a litigation is just too big for us to handle we would definitely be upfront with the client about that.”
The boutique’s doors opened on Feb. 1 and he himself was the last of the seven partners to start work, on Tuesday of last week. They are already busy with client matters that came in the door with them, Belloli says. And, although they are not yet at 100 percent of capacity, they expect soon to be working as much as they did at their old BigLaw positions.
“We still expect to work just as hard here and make just as much if not more,” he explains. However, the group saw the move to small law as a chance to enhance their teamwork and enjoy themselves more while practicing law together.
“We just want to have a lot of fun, change the model a little bit and present an attractive alternative to the way most IP litigation is handled and most firms work.”
source: ABA Journal