When searching for an attorney, clients may seek a large firm because of the brand, a particular expertise, or the matter simply requires multiple attorneys. I’ve also heard that some clients select a big firm because if the matter doesn’t go as anticipated, the individuals who selected the firm will have a good excuse (because they can say to their superiors they hired the biggest and best firm). To that I say, rather than plan for a loss, try for a win. But if clients are not required to select a big firm, the decision makers may want to consider the following the next time they are faced with hiring legal counsel.
1. Hire an Attorney, Not a Firm. When you hire an attorney, is he or she actually working on the matter or is it being delegated? There are certainly efficiencies in bringing on attorneys with lower billing rates, but then again, someone whom you didn’t directly hire may be doing the work. At small firms, there is less risk that the matter will be delegated. Clients enjoy the peace of mind knowing that the attorney they selected will be doing the work.
2. Efficiency. When multiple attorneys work on a file, they will all have to know and understand the matter. At small firms, there is little to no redundancy. I also find that there is a significant benefit of knowing all aspects of a case. For example, when I handle a case, typically I am the one who reviews the documents and background facts. I am the one who researches the law when drafting a brief. I am the one who drafts the brief. And I am the one who will argue in court. By personally performing these tasks (as opposed to dividing them up), I am confident and prepared when going in front of a judge. Consider this hypothetical. Suppose two students are reporting on a book. One reads the CliffsNotes. The other reads every page of the book and prepares a report. Who will be better suited to answer the teacher’s questions?
3. No billable hour requirement. Some firms require that their attorneys bill a certain amount of time each year. It’s a necessary evil. Many may condemn this requirement, but it’s difficult to come up with another system that keeps attorneys busy and accountable. It’s like grading students in school. Many disagree with the practice, but they can’t come up with a suitable replacement. Many small firms do not have a minimum requirement. In theory, this shouldn’t matter, but consider another hypothetical. Suppose a police department required that each officer issue 200 speeding tickets per month. The neighboring community did not. Where would you want to drive?
4. Personal Attention. Let’s face it -- bigger firms have more clients. But more clients mean more emails to respond to and calls to return. Small firms typically have fewer clients and fewer people competing for their time, thus increasing the opportunity to provide personal attention to every matter.
5. Fewer Conflicts. If attorneys have a conflict of interest (e.g., if the firm already represents the other side), they cannot represent you. The larger the firm, the more likely there will be a conflict. At smaller firms, conflicts of interest are not as common, and they can often evaluate whether there is a conflict of interest in matter of minutes, as opposed to hours or days.
I’m not saying that all big firms are bad. They’re not, and sometimes they may be a perfect choice for a matter. But the next time you select a firm, consider whether a small firm or solo practitioner may be a better fit.