Are you really important to your law firm?  If not, might you be better off by being a premier client at a different firm?

Those are two questions raised by Rees Morrison’s post “Be primary to a regional firm rather than tertiary to a national powerhouse” in his Law Department Management blog.  His conclusion:

If your revenue accounts for a significant portion of a law firm’s billings, or even the largest chunk of a major partner’s billings, you will be treated with respect, deference, and extra efforts. If the same amount of gold rarely gets caught in the sieve of a huge firm or a huge biller, your prospects will be much worse.

Rees doesn’t answer the questions he poses.  I will, however, because this is the dirty little secret of big law firms. Not every lawyer in every large firm is an exceptional lawyer.  Some are very average.  Some associates are less than average, and some are so unconcerned with their career at the firm that they are not willing to go the extra mile.  There are times, and at times they are frequent, where limited resources have to be allocated.  Not enough associates.  Or a choice between a good associate and one who is not as good.  Same with paralegals.  A partner facing a choice between trying a case for a huge client and trying a case for a smaller client.  Who gets “handed off”?  Anyone who has worked at a large firm has countless examples where smaller clients received short shrift. Its like making sausage–if you don’t talk about it, maybe you can ignore the process while you’re being served.

There are great law firms that are smaller than the major firms.  There are elegant boutiques where your business would make you the dominant client.  Those are the places to be.

  • Patrick raises some very valid arguments. My experience is in smaller law firms and i’ve witnessed first-hand the high-priority and personalized service that certain clients have received as the bigger fish in the pond. However, it is pond dominated by small fish. Take the same clients and dump them in the sea at a large firm, and it’s clear they can’t recevie the same attention high-priority attention, particularly not from the partners.
    I think in many respects, it’s all about choosing the right firm for the client and in general terms, it’s fair to say that large clients and large firms compliment each other, and vice versa.
    As to the quality of personnel, i agree with Patrick that the size of a firm is not always a good indication of the ability of their practitioners.