However, the opposite of a full service law firm is not a “self-service law firm” (although it’s an intriguing thought), but rather a boutique law firm. What they mean is the firm’s collective attitude toward work, life, family and other factors that make up a firm’s atmosphere.Unfortunately, “culture” does not mean that you will find associates forming string quartets and doing watercolors – unless you’ve stumbled into a self-proclaimed quality-of-life firm.Sometimes, law firm terminology is borrowed from other industries.When marketing to the outside world, for example, big firms usually describe themselves as full-service law firms, which makes them sound like a gas stations.In other places, they shun the rainmaker/sponge dichotomy in favor of Finders, Minders, and Grinders (those who “find” the business, those who “mind,” or maintain, the client relation, and those who “grind” out the work). There is a special vocabulary to describe what we do in big firms.From one point of view, what lawyers do is bill – they work billable hours.Thus, depending on the firm, “Of Counsel” can refer to a senior associate or a senior citizen.Even when the lawyer gets to be a partner, there are gradations. Some firms have a two-tiered partnership with equity partners, who own a piece of the firm, and contract partners, who don’t.
For example, a firm with a long pedigree is a white shoe firm, so-called for the white-bucks that the lawyers would wear with their bow ties in an earlier era.Most big firms have a set number of hours that associates are expected to bill (e.g., 2,000 hours a year), often known as the target, although at some firms, it is referred to as par.One exception to the billable hour routine is the summer outing, which is generally an all-day golfing and eating affair at a country club.But after that, the consensus over terminology breaks down.At some firms, it’s up-or-out, i.e., partner or nothing.Imagine an anthropologist plucked from his ivory tower and deposited into midtown Manhattan. Let’s say he eavesdrops on a couple of lawyers and the first thing he hears is this:“We needed a rainmaker, so we hired a headhunter.”Based on that sentence, he would probably think that he had landed in a primitive society, driven by superstition and violence. He could just as easily overhear something like this:“I used to work at a white shoe firm, but it was a real factory; so I moved on to a boutique.”In that case, our anthropologist might decide that he was in Milan, where young professionals get their start in shoe factories and then move up to snazzy boutiques.In both examples, the hapless academic is listening to the language of big law firms, a strange dialect that can only be heard in the glass-and-steel towers of your larger cities.Here, to save you (and our anthropologist) some time, is an introductory phrasebook for talking to the natives in Big Law Firm Land. To begin with, there are all the terms that lawyers use to describe the leading firms.These range from the highly metaphorical factories, or sweatshops (i.e., places that “produce” billable hours in an assembly line fashion) to the somewhat hyperbolic mega-firm, to the very prosaic Biglaw (generally a term to be avoided unless you want to reveal yourself as a surfer of Greedy Associates).Corporate lawyers work on deals while litigators work on cases.Either way, you end up with a mountain of documents.