(10) Avoid “Big Law” Unless You Are Very Wealthy and Do not Want Personalized Service.
The largest law firms have names that are well respected in the legal community. This certainly means something. Judges may give a little more leeway to the attorneys from big law firms, as the firm likely contributed to the various judges’ election campaigns, and opponents may feel a little more fear facing a well-funded, big name firm on the opposing side.
These benefits come at a great price, however: attorneys at big law firms are overworked and, if they are handling too many cases at once, they may not have enough time to properly research your case. This means that you may not be on equal footing at a trial if the opposing party researched properly. Of course, this can happen to any attorney, but it is more likely to happen at a big law firm that has hundreds of clients than at a small one.
If business is slow, and when lawyers at big law firms have the time, they have one goal: to bill hours. The lawyers at many big law firms work around 3,000 hours per year in an attempt to bill at a minimum 2,000 hours (and that is just to keep their jobs – if lawyers have ambitions to become partners, those numbers could increase significantly). If you go with big law, expect to get billed a full billing increment for the tiniest of things: for listening to a voicemail, for a one-minute phone call, for writing a letter to you to give you an update, for making copies for you, and the list goes on.
Another aspect of big law that scares many people away from hiring a big law firm are the rates charged by big law firms. Usually the rates of big law partners (the ones that actually have the reputation) are $600 or even $1,000 per hour. If you are willing to settle for not having a big law partner handling your case at a big law firm, the rates will still likely be higher than if you were to go with a smaller law firm or a sole practitioner, and you will not have as much of the power behind the name as it will just be an associate (so you would be going halfway, in essence).
Finally, because lawyers at big law firms are so overworked, they will not have as much ability to give personal service on your case. You may end up dealing with a secretary at the firm more often than dealing with your attorney, and still get billed for the secretary’s time!
Because it is often a good idea for most people who are not made of money to avoid big law, it is helpful to know how to spot a big law firm. Look for signs as to the size of the law office. Some signs include things like: the office takes the whole 50th floor of a building downtown; the firm buys the front or back cover of the telephone book; the firm lists multiple offices and multiple states of operation; the firm has ads on multiple television channels every few minutes throughout the day; you can think of the lawyer’s jingle without help because you have heard it so often; and any other common-sense signs. You can often find lists of attorneys on the webpages of law firms. The bigger the law firm, the more the above problems will exist.
I certainly do not mean to decry big law too much — it has its place and its own set of benefits — but for most people big law will be a big pain in the neck and the pocketbook.
If you go in knowing these ten things when hiring an attorney, you will be able to better select a lawyer who will represent you for the right price.
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