X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
When Alayne Katz moved to Irvington to start her own family law practice after seven years working in Jamaica, Queens, N.Y. with the Juvenile Rights Division of The Legal Aid Society, she expected a better quality of life and more time with her family. What she did not expect was a more satisfying practice of law. “In a smaller county, there are less people, less cases, the courthouse is run more efficiently, and you really get to know the lawyers and the judges better,” explained Katz. “All those things make it much a more pleasant place to practice.” And Katz is not alone. The women lawyers interviewed for this article are now tackling the practice of law in the ‘burbs, after careers with large law firms or government agencies in Manhattan. Whether they are practicing solo or with a partner, they by and large appear professionally and personally satisfied with suburban practice even though they have sustained cuts in earnings. All had shifted their practices to the north suburban counties over the past decade for quality of life and family reasons, as well as to be their own bosses. While practice in the suburbs may not necessarily offer the shorter hours they had hoped for, most said they found the lifestyle saner, the court atmosphere friendlier and the commute to work far less hectic and time-consuming. “It’s not that practicing law here is less stressful,” said Carol Most of Mt. Kisco N.Y.’s Skyer & Most. “If you have a lot of clients, you’re going to have stress. But it is easier to get something done.” As an example, Most explained that attorneys must be physically present to obtain adjournments in Supreme Court in Manhattan, N.Y., while in Westchester Supreme Court, N.Y., parties can adjourn via the phone or a letter if they consent. That benefit alone, she said, can result in lower litigation costs and, consequently, more satisfied clients. NO MORE COMMUTE Such benefits, plus eliminating the daily commute is why Most gave up the daily trip to her still existing practice in New York City, now run by her partner, Regina Skyer. Since she opened her matrimonial law practice in Mt. Kisco in 1994, she has added two paralegals and an associate. Beth Willensky, a solo practitioner in New Rochelle with a varied clientele of small businesses in Westchester County as well as out of state, said attorneys outside the city are also granted more leeway if they should make a mistake in their paperwork. “I remember one time I was close to the wire and forgot to include a page,” she recounted. “The clerk let me fax it. Most likely, the judges and the clerks know you, so if you’re trying to do your job, the court is not going to stand in your way. “That’s different than in Manhattan, where there is an ‘us-against-them’ delineation,” she said. The lawyers interviewed seemed to feel that the extent of the differences between city and suburban practice depended on the area of law. Family law, for example, is seen as relatively similar as it is practiced in New York City given the relative affluence of Westchester County N.Y. residents. CORPORATE LAW TOUGHER Corporate and commercial litigation, on the other hand, is more complex in the city, ventured Maryann King, a former attorney with the New York State Consumer Protection Board, who now practices commercial law and estate planning in Irvington, N.Y.. “As a lawyer representing a state agency, I was up against major players representing companies like General Motors, litigating cutting-edge issues of law,” explained King. “In many ways, you get a cross-section of experience and perspective that may not be available in the suburbs.” Willensky, a former corporate litigator with Breed Abbott & Morgan before it merged into Whitman Breed Abbott & Morgan, noted a suburban practice could also be exciting and lucrative, especially for lawyers who find a niche. In her case, Willensky, has begun to represent small and medium-sized companies based in Westchester County because the current trend is for big corporations to keep their legal business in-house. “Because most of these smaller companies do not want (to incur) big legal fees, I’ve had to rely more on my negotiating skills to stay out of court,” she explained. “That’s quite a different philosophy than (for) the big firms who see litigation as a cost of doing business.” Willensky also has started a consulting business this year, “Preventive Writing,” to teach executives how to write letters, e-mail and other documents to minimize their risk of litigation. Many smaller companies, she said, do not have the same in-house training seminars that large firms offer their management. “I would have never seen the need for this service if I hadn’t started practicing in the suburbs,” she said. MONEY CAN BE MADE Although many lawyers refused to give financial details, all agreed that lawyers could make money in the suburbs. Katz asserted her family law practice had more than doubled each year since she opened up in 1995, although she predicts growth for 2000 to slow. In the trusts and estates area, suburban solo practitioners have access to a broad spectrum of clients, according to Susan Taxin Baer, a lawyer who spent nearly a decade working for big firms in New York City. She said that although her experience at Proskauer Rose and Weil Gotshal & Manges in New York City offered more sophisticated work due to a caseload with more high net worth individuals, her White Plains practice has grown steadily since she moved in 1994. Without offering specifics, she said the business she is handling supports an associate, paralegal and secretary for her White Plains practice, as well as conference space in New York City. “It’s quite relaxing to come into my own office,” she explained, “but I do feel the pressure to increase my business. Having your own practice means it’s your liability if it doesn’t work out.” Sam Bader of Bader Research Associates, a New York City legal recruiting firm, said he believes family law and trusts and estates to be the most profitable areas for a suburban practice. “What I’ve been seeing is that women who move to the suburbs for their families usually end up practicing in-house because the hours are more predictable and the workload manageable,” he said. “But I can also see how matrimonial law and wills would be in demand in the north suburbs [of New York City]. I don’t see how suburban lawyers can make money practicing corporate law; they’re just not going to attract those big clients. OTHER DRAWBACKS Not making as much money is not the only disadvantage lawyers mentioned. According to Baer, a suburban practice doesn’t hold the same glamour and prestige that the large firms do. “I used to have an office on the 45th floor of a skyscraper which gave me a magnificent view of Central Park; now I have a beautiful view of White Plains,” she said. “It’s all relative. At times I do miss the pace of the city, but it’s my own practice and I am closer to home.” Feeling isolated, however, has not been a problem for lawyers because of technology, they said. “With the Internet, fax and phone, if I have a question, I can always go to a chat room, or call another lawyer,” commented King, who opened her Irvington practice after having two children in 1993. In addition, King claimed another advantage to being home-based is that her clients can always reach her. ACCESSIBILITY “Since I’m home, I’m always accessible to my clients.,” she said. “They always know where to reach me. And because I’m in the neighborhood, it’s easy for them to drop off papers.” Another advantage, added lawyers, is that their legal fees are less since they have minimized their overhead expenses. Before she moved to the suburbs, Willensky practiced on her own in New York City for three years. “Now I don’t have to pay unincorporated business tax, commercial rent tax, commuting costs, the dry cleaning bill and the babysitter,” she said. Lawyers interviewed for this story disagreed on whether a suburban practice requires a greater marketing effort to drum up business. King said it’s easier to distinguish her expertise in a smaller community than in New York City. MARKETING CALLED CRUCIAL Willensky said she believes that marketing is crucial to the success of the solo practitioner, who is more isolated than more established firms and, in many cases, lacks in-house support. “One disadvantage of having your own practice is that coming from a big firm where everything has been done for you, you really have to learn to do all these things — from Federal Express-ing a package to monitoring your firm’s cash flow to marketing yourself,” she commented. She and several other lawyers credited networking with the local bar associations for having netted them referral work. Cheryl Agris, an intellectual property solo practitioner from Pelham, N.Y., estimated she spends between 10 to 20 percent of her time each week marketing her firm. She said she gets business through referrals, word of mouth, writing articles and giving talks to organizations such as the New York Intellectual Property Law Association and the Association of Women and Science. Agris, a former law clerk with Pennie & Edmonds and in-house counsel for Novo Nordisk of North America, both in Manhattan, said her patent law practice in Pelham is similar to her city experience. Her decision to strike out on her own was based on the fact that she wanted more job security. “I love being my own boss,” she said. “But another reason why I did this is that there’s no such thing as job security anymore. Where will you be if you never make partner or if your firm gets taken over? If you work for yourself, you don’t have to worry about things like that.”

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.