When I first started practicing law, I worked at a large firm that had numerous practice areas. One of the partners stated that the size of the firm was one of its biggest assets since clients could rely on our firm for almost all of their needs. Of course, it can be convenient for clients to only have to deal with one law firm since there may be inefficiencies associated with communicating with multiple attorneys at different law firms. However, clients often benefit from relying on multiple different kinds of law firms to handle their legal work.
For instance, clients can often save money by relying on different law firms for different types of projects. For bet-the-company matters, clients may be best served by large “fancy” law firms that typically charge higher rates. Such firms can apply significant resources to a matter to ensure that a client has the best possibility of success, which is important if the stakes are high in a given case.
However, some law firms can charge several times more per hour than smaller law firms charge to clients. As a result, it often does not make sense for clients to use large and expensive law firms on smaller matters. Moreover, some types of legal work are best handled using a flat rate or alternative fee arrangement, which is usually harder for a larger law firm to charge. Accordingly, many clients, including big companies, may be able to protect their bottom lines by using smaller law firms for such matters.
Despite the cost savings of smaller shops, I have seen clients rely on large firms for all of their work. Perhaps the clients simply did not want to interact with new counsel in order to fulfil their legal needs, and maybe cost was not a factor. However, clients might be limited when it comes to settlement strategies if they use a large and expensive firm for a matter, and for this reason, most clients should have a bench of different law firms available to handle a given legal matter.
Sometimes, clients can benefit from using multiple law firms on a single matter. It is usually pretty rare for a client to hire to different teams of lawyers to handle a matter. The more lawyers a client hires, the more legal costs a client will eventually pay for legal services, and most clients are cost-conscious when they make choices about their legal representation. In addition, there may be inefficiencies in having multiple law firms handle a matter, since the law firms may not be on the same page and may have communication issues.
The only time I really saw a client hire two different law firms to handle a matter was in Biglaw. Our client was a massive company facing a nasty class action. In order to deal with the lawsuit, the client hired us and another major law firm. The client assigned certain tasks for our team to perform and asked the other firm to perform other tasks on the case.
We worked harder on that matter than on any other case I can remember. My bosses really wanted to get more work from that client, so we put our best foot forward and applied our top resources to provide excellent services for the client. There were some drawbacks to this arrangement that I might have to save for another article, but suffice it to say that the client got better representation (albeit perhaps at a greater financial cost) than if the client had only hired one firm to perform the work.
Another time when it pays to hire multiple law firms is if the case is entering a stage of the litigation in which a particular firm has expertise. For instance, appeals are a complicated and tricky process since appellate lawyers need to know the printing guidelines and deadlines associated with perfecting an appeal. As a result, it is not uncommon for some law firms to just specialize in appeals, and I know a few law firms that just handle appeals assigned by other firms. In addition, trial work is somewhat specialized since not too many cases go to trial and even fewer cases reach a verdict. As a result, many law firms specialize in trials, and if a case is entering this stage of the litigation, it may pay to hire a firm specializing in trials to ensure that a client gets the best representation possible.
All told, sometimes clients have strong connections to their counsel and they may not wish to use multiple law firms to handle their portfolio of legal work. However, clients can realize a number of benefits if they rely on a deep bench of law firms to handle their legal work, and in some instances, if they use multiple law firms on a single legal matter.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at [email protected].