Should I Hire a Small or a Large Law Firm? The Little Guy Speaks!

Often time’s people ask me why I should choose a small law firm rather than a large firm. While I run a small law firm and may possess some bias I really do believe there are very salient reasons why you should choose the “little guy”.

Way back when, I clerked for a large law firm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The office and d├ęcor where utterly amazing; however, as you can well imagine money made that world go ’round. Not that’s there’s anything wrong with the “green pursuit” but there were office managers and others who always monitored what the lawyers and staff were doing and how many billable hours each was generating. Although it wasn’t written down, there were a certain number of hours an attorney (or staff for that matter) was expected to generate per week and if those goals were not met, then your tenure with the law firm was shall I say, short.

I remember one case I worked on where the firm was representing an attorney in a grievance before the Florida Bar. The dispute concerned the lawyer overbilling a client, and I, as law clerk, had the utterly enjoyable task of reviewing, compiling, and categorizing the attorney’s time billing records. After spending an entire weekend, morning, noon and night organizing those records, I went to the partner assigned the case and said, we have a problem. The partner assured me that he had reviewed the same records and found that the time billed for the work performed was reasonable. I told him, while that might be true there were days when the disciplined lawyer billed for 28 hours in a 24 hour period. Now, while the lawyer may very well have spent every waking hour working on case, there were only 24 hours in a day and no matter how dedicated or good that attorney may have been it was impossible to work (and bill) 28 hours in a 24 hour day. Unfortunately, the Bar agreed and that lawyer, to quote Ricky Ricardo, had some ‘splanin to do!

I do believe there are times when using a large law firm are essential. For instance if you’re involved in complex civil litigation, personal injury matters or medical malpractice. You’ll want a large firm that specializes in those areas because you need the capital, resources, support staff, expert witness, and multiple attorneys required to make the best presentation before the court or jury. However, for the myriad of “regular”, ordinary, middle of the road type cases that fill the court system each day, a small firm is the only place to be.

There’s tremendous value in knowing who your attorney is! When you choose a small firm you know the lawyer. You met them during the initial consultation, they promptly respond to your questions or concerns. They are accessible when you need them to be. You can get an appointment quickly. Their support staff is usually very generous with their time and will often times offer the emotional support that some lawyers, even the best ones can’t give because they’re so focused on the legal aspects of the case. With a small firm you’ll receive the individualized attention you and your case needs which can feel so lacking with the larger firms.

Many times with larger firms you’ll meet with a partner generally a “rain maker” who is usually quite articulate and dynamic. They’ll make a striking appearance and assure you of the varied reasons why you should hire their firm. Unfortunately, too many times after the fat retainer is plopped down you’ll find that your case has been assigned to a junior partner or associate who might call you back next Thursday unless the sun is out which means it may not be until the following Wednesday. Oh, I forgot, Wednesday is usually golf day so you’ll get a call back on Friday. No, wait, they leave early on Friday so make that the following Tuesday. You get my drift.

For many people, their particular case is the only time they’ll (hopefully) ever be in the court system. They want their case handled efficiently and expeditiously so they can get out of the system as fast as possible. If there is one good thing about the court system it is this, the sooner you get out of it the better. Therefore, for divorce, family law, criminal defense, small claims cases, etc., the smart choice is the small firm. In the courtroom, you’ll want to stand with the attorney you sat with in the office, not some guy you’ve never met who keeps calling you Tim when you name is Tom!

Now, of course choosing an attorney, any attorney, is a choice you should make carefully and wisely. You should interview a few of them who practice in the area you need. In most instances they’ll offer a free consultation. If they want to charge you for an initial consultation, then unless you were referred to that lawyer by a family member or friend who knows the lawyer and will attest to their level of competency, then don’t go. The law business is very competitive and many great lawyers will offer a free initial consultation. You can discuss fee, payments, anticipated length of case and any other questions you may have. Once you feel comfortable with a particular lawyer then you can retain them and get started. Let the search for the right lawyer begin!

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