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Starting a Law Firm Using Craigslist

Back in the olden days, when lawyers sought to start or expand a law practice they'd place a pricey advertisement in a hard-copy legal trade publication or retain a placement firm as a matchmaker. Lawyers would have to be fairly committed to expanding their practice, given the upfront costs involved in finding a potential partner.

But now it's possible to build a new law firm much more cheaply by using Craigslist. That's how former BigLaw associate Afif Ghannoum, founder of the Ghannoum Law Firm, did it, drawing on pool of close to 500 respondents to staff his new firm's life-science and bio-technology practice. According to a recent story in MedCity News, Cleveland-based Ghannoum identified a need for high-quality, competitively priced legal services for new bio-tech companies. So he posted a request on Craigslist for partner-level attorneys with bio-tech experience and chose nine lawyers from among the hundreds who responded. Some of the lawyers come from impressive backgrounds, including a former senior patent attorney at Bristol-Myers Squibb and a venture capitalist who worked at GE Asset Management. Lawyers work on a project basis, with compensation for hours spent on a particular matter.

The firm is still growing; Ghannoum has since placed two more ads on Craigslist and hopes to grow his firm to 50 attorneys over the next two to three years. In four months alone, the firm has attracted 20 clients, ranging from a lone scientist to a publicly traded company in San Francisco.

Though the growth of virtual law firms is an emerging trend, from what I can tell, Ghannoum's firm is the first to focus exclusively on life sciences. What's more interesting to me, however is Ghannoum's ability to attract talent on Craigslist. Back in the pre-recession days, I used Craigslist every so often to find contract attorneys or paralegals to assist with overflow work in my law practice. But even after sorting through a dozen or so "auto-responses," I found the quality of the résumés and writing samples to be so poor that I never ended up hiring anyone through the site, relying instead on personal recommendations. Apparently the quality of lawyers seeking work through Craigslist has improved substantially, at least if Ghannoum's experience is any indication.

In many ways, firms like Ghannoum's -- including Axiom and Virtual Law Partners -- resemble a high-end contract firm, outsourcing work to contract attorneys. But in this case the work is far more sophisticated than document review and, naturally, far better compensated. Is working for these firms a desirable alternative to life as a BigLaw partner or in-house counsel? The high-quality lawyers named in the article suggest that it might be, but the rest of those 500 respondents could encompass a wide range of experience, from laid-off associates to low-quality lawyers who would have trouble finding work in any economy. Have you ever hired anyone via Craigslist?

[Also see coverage on ABA Journal and The Young Texas Lawyer]

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on July 28, 2009 at 04:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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