People thought Thomas Wallerstein might be nuts.

Last summer, as a senior associate, he left Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan to start his own two-man shop. With the recession in full bloom, and Big Law associates across the country losing jobs by the hundreds, the response to his plan was unanimous: "Are you crazy? In this economy?!" Wallerstein recalled. "Most people could not understand why I would turn my back on the security, prestige and money associated with big firms."