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June 05, 2008

Going Solo; Confessions & Inspirations - Craig Niedenthal

This is a terrific entry into the Going Solo; Confessions & Inspirations category because it is the story of one 25-year veteran BigLaw lawyer who one day said, 'enough.'  Read:  Defying Gravity by new solo Craig Niedenthal.


Believe it or not, this path to going solo all began one night almost a year ago watching a Broadway play. Sitting in the dark theatre, mesmerized by a fairy tale story of all things, I heard these words in a song: .

Something has changed in me/>

Something is not the same.

I'm through with playing by the rules

Of someone else's game.

Too late for second-guessing.

Too late to go back to sleep.

It's time to trust my instincts.

Close my eyes: and leap!

             That was the start of my revelation. You see, I had been practicing for almost 25 years on both ends of the spectrum and it just was not working for me anymore. To understand how I got here after all these years of practicing it’s important to understand from whence I came. I went to law school to be a trial lawyer. From the time I could remember in school, teachers would always tell me what a great lawyer I’d make. I could argue anyone to death. Although law school did little to prepare or provide me insight into what it really took to be a trial lawyer, leaving the hallowed halls of Tulane Law School, I knew arguing my case to the jury was where my passion lied.

The first 18 years of my practice I worked for a boutique defense law firm in Florida that specialized in representing auto manufacturers in products liability litigation. Although I worked in that firm’s office in Orlando, I spent much of my time in cases based in South Florida. There is no better training ground for a young lawyer than the knockdown, drag out litigation haven of South Florida. I learned to fight hard, never give up, and do all within the bounds of the law and ethics to represent your client. I eventually became one of the youngest attorneys at that firm to ever be named partner. Yes, it was only a “non-equity partner” but it was the first step to what I saw as a significant goal: senior partner at a nationally recognized products liability defense firm.

I continued to fight and work hard, and yes that included billing 45 -50 hours a week for many years, till I made senior partner status about 3 years later. I had made it. I was in my early 30s and a senior partner at an excellent law firm, with great lawyers, challenging work and excellent clients. So why did I only feel more stress, more unhappiness, more lack of fulfillment than ever before? Things just didn’t make sense. I’d sit in partners’ meetings and listen to ramblings over issues big and small and think to myself, “You know what I think really doesn’t matter here. It’s all politics.”

Shortly after reaching senior partner status, my firm asked if I would move, with my wife and 2 children, up to Birmingham, Alabama and open and run a brand new office in a state where this firm had never had a presence. What better opportunity to show my value, to have the ability to create my own office with attorneys and personnel of my own choosing, and create a work environment that I felt would allow me and those who worked with me to thrive.

It was a great learning experience. I struggled not only on the outside to create a presence for my firm in a new state, but on the inside with my own firm to get the support of my fellow partners to assist in making this new office not only profitable to the firm, but valuable to the legal community. After 5 years of managing that office, and 18 years at the same firm, I needed change. I needed to find the passion I had once when I left those halls of Tulane.

I took a 180 degree turn. I went to a plaintiff’s litigation firm specializing in complex litigation including products liability and pharmaceutical litigation. As my fellow defense lawyers were heard to say “Craig went to the dark side.” As I saw it, I was going toward the light. Brought in as a shareholder at this plaintiff’s firm, I knew I could try any case they threw at me. What I didn’t know was how to be a plaintiff’s lawyer. You would think after having practiced for 18 years at that point, I had it all down pat. However, there was much to learn about how to handle a case from the plaintiff’s side, from how to care for individual clients who were uneducated in the world of lawsuits, to how to pay off liens after you settle a case so that the lien holders don’t later come after you and your client to get their money. Fortunately, I was at a firm which had all the tools to teach and guide me through the fine points of handling cases on behalf of injured and wronged individuals.

But after almost 6 years of being with that firm, I still found something was missing. It wasn’t working. Again, I’d sit in partner’s meetings and think, “I just don’t matter.” My passion for work, for helping people, for making a difference just wasn’t enough. Bottom line, it was not my firm to form, direct, move and lead where I thought it should be.

Which brings me back to that night in the dark theatre listening to Elphaba, the “wicked” witch declare how she was going to “defy gravity”, go “solo”, “fly free” and it all spoke to me. I finally knew it was time, after 25 years of seeing the world of litigation from both sides, to “trust my instincts, close my eyes…..and leap”.

It has now been over 3 months since I started my own law firm, Niedenthal Law Firm, P.C., specializing in complex litigation, products liability and pharmaceutical litigation. I cannot remember when I have felt so energized, so invigorated, so focused on the goal. I am doing what I love and now, I am doing it for me, the way I think it should be done. My clients and staff are treated the way I think they should be treated. The decisions are now all mine and whether they are right or wrong…and believe me there have been some wrong ones, but they are MINE. Everyone finds their inspiration in life in different places. I found mine in a dark theatre, one summer night in Chicago watching a witch “fly” as she was “defying gravity”. I have taken my leap, and I am not looking back.

Craig P. Niedenthal, Esq.
Niedenthal Law Firm, P.C.
2015 Stonegate Trail, Suite 101
Birmingham, AL 35242
(P)205-977-8999; (F)205-977-5990

(And we need to congratulate Craig on his 17 year old son's great achievement.)


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Craig: This was a wonderful post. I particularly like the words of the song. Very cool.

Good luck with your new firm!

BTW: What was the play?

Craig Niedenthal

The Play is Wicked. Great Play! Great Song! Thanks for your thoughts.

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