Should I choose a firm or a person?

Author: Anna Coward
Should I choose a firm or a person?

Most lawyers understand that they’re an expense and have a duty to keep the costs at a reasonable level. In short, the benefit needs to outweigh the cost to your business. This will mean making sure the work is done at the lowest appropriate level of expertise, so that it’s also the lowest level of expense…and consequently the most cost effective. If they’re to do this, in the majority of cases, some delegation will be essential. If managed well, this will ensure you get the very best legal advice at a reasonable price.

Where this goes wrong, however, is when firms over-delegate work to risk-averse assistants. Let us explain. The business model in many very large firms is based on ensuring that a small number of partners ‘at the top of the tree’ earn up to seven-figure sums. This rite of passage approach (where lawyers work long hours with large targets for billable time each year) relies on a high ratio of assistant lawyers to a low number of high-earning partners. By delegating work to specialist (but often inexperienced) assistant lawyers these partners do limited chargeable work themselves and simply oversee the process. This approach tends to lead to over-delegation and to assistants becoming increasingly risk-averse because they’re working on matters beyond their experience. 

Understanding how work is to be divided between lawyers of different seniority, as well as the role support staff have, should be a key question in relation to any legal work. Done well, it will save you money. Done badly and it could cause problems for years to come.

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