Inaugural Blog: Small is Beautiful

I am delighted to launch Neff Law Firm, a Professional Law Corp., which in its first incarnation had a very strong 12-1/2 year run until the summer of 2004, and was known as Neff Law Group LLP. This rebirth takes place more than five years after I joined a top Century City-based Los Angeles law firm, Greenberg Glusker, as a partner and head of the Technology and Intellectual Property Practice Group. Just like I did in January of 1992, I am launching this firm while the US economy is in a recession.

Unlike the situation in 1992, I am able to hit the ground running with a strong client base consisting primarily of technology, media and ecommerce companies, based in Southern California, Silicon Valley and throughout the country and the world. Back then, I had been the Deputy General Counsel at what was Southern California’s largest technology company, Ashton-Tate Corporation, the publisher of dBASE software (and many other products). I handled all of their international deals and antipiracy enforcement around the world, and in this capacity, was a Director and then Chairman of the Washington, DC-based Business Software Alliance (BSA). Borland acquired Ashton-Tate Corporation in the fall of 1991, and I had the option of remaining with Borland. But Borland already had a general counsel, and I didn’t want to move my young family up to Santa Cruz a few years after Ashton-Tate moved me to Los Angeles from Washington, D.C.

In 1992, one of my friends offered me free office space on the Redondo Beach Pier to hang out my proverbial shingle, and at first I waited anxiously for the fax machine to ring. On my third day, Microsoft invited me to their headquarters; they knew me from the BSA Board. They wanted all of my time to help initiate and manage some antipiracy/copyright enforcement programs in Latin America. I told them that they couldn’t have ALL my time, but they could have all the time they needed. From that point on, the Firm grew steadily. Soon Neff Law Group was handling all of Intuit’s international transactions and issues, which it did for over a decade, and many transactions and issues for Yahoo, Vignette, Autodesk, VERITAS (now Symantec), the BSA, pricegrabber.com, Apple, and many others.

For a variety of reasons, mostly personal, and against the wishes of some of our lawyers, I closed down the Firm in 2004 and four of us joined Greenberg Glusker. In some ways, it was good to see how a large firm does things. Large firms offer certain opportunities for professional growth, and the ability to bounce ideas and strategies off colleagues. I absorbed valuable lessons and best practices.

Come the Great Recession, suddenly Big Law was under pressure, and I wasn’t having as much fun. But I was lucky, the technology and media sectors still were fairly strong, and after a slowdown experienced by the economy at large through the fall of 2008 into the winter of 2009, my practice grew steadily through 2009. I was longing to run my own show again, with the flexibility to participate in new ventures and other adventures.

As the end of 2009 approached, I resolved to launch Neff Law Firm as soon as possible in 2010. The Firm formally opened its doors on February 1, this time with paid offices on the Raleigh Studios lot in Manhattan Beach, about two miles from home. The launch coincides with several relevant articles in the mainstream press, such as one in the Los Angeles Times on February 15, entitled “The big opportunities in the legal profession are at small firms.” In that article, Carol Williams wrote:

“They’re open Saturdays. They offer payment plans in the place of up-front retainers. Decisions don’t need to be run past a task force or partnership committee. Boutiques are flourishing in the current economic climate because they deal on a more personal level with the legal consumer and they tailor services to individual needs, legal analysts say. Smaller firms also have less overhead and can be more flexible and affordable, they said.”

All of this is true of Neff Law Firm. While I’m at the top of my game, my rates are a bit lower, and I work with my clients to make sure they get the services they need. The reaction of all of my clients has been very encouraging. It’s Sunday, and I’m at my desk and enjoying it.

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