Hamilton premiered weeks before I left my former law firm and started (then-named) Newmark Storms Law Office with Eric Newmark. Hamilton miraculously speaks to almost everyone, which underscores its brilliance. I personally connected to it based upon where I was in my own life’s journey, particularly as to my motivation for starting my own practice. So, I listened to Hamilton, again, and again, and… With this column, I intend to borrow from Hamilton to help structure my thoughts and musings about the last five years of starting and maintaining my small firm practice.
Hamilton often focuses on the concept of “name” in the context of both reputation and legacy. I’m going to focus on the former, as it pertains to my motivation for starting my own practice and its initial execution.
We lawyers take our names seriously. Like movie stars, we jockey for our name’s position, whether it’s up the signature block or further left of the door. We cut four-name-firms down to one for modern branding. Other firms avoid surnames in pursuit of egalitarianism. Some senior lawyers insist on signing their names on complaints or briefs despite minimal case involvement. See, e.g., Bruiser Stone directing to Rudy Baker in The Rainmaker: “I want you to draw up a lawsuit against this Great Benefit, and you put my name on it.” While younger lawyers begrudge that aspect, older lawyers know how hard it was to get there.
Lawyers leave law firms for countless reasons. Starting my own firm was very much about “name” and what I perceived it meant for long-term success. Every lawyer’s path and goals are different, but I viewed having my name on the door as a prerequisite to obtaining more clients and getting better results for them over the course of my career. I wanted more people to know my name. I wanted there to be no internal or external doubt about where credit was due for my successes and was ready to stand independently accountable for my failures.
People knowing your name = clients = feeding your family. In that regard, whom we link our names to in a new enterprise is critical. Joining an established criminal defense attorney was a no-brainer for me. Aside from the financial stability that a criminal practice brings to contingency fee work, successful criminal defense attorneys have a roster of hundreds of clients. That differs greatly from my prior experience of working on a handful of larger cases. Those are real people who know their lawyer’s name, and who are often their first call, no matter the problem. If executed correctly, those are hundreds of people to share your name with. Jeff Storms