The Case of a Boutique Law Firm Vs A Conventional Law Firm

The legal scene for some time has been changing with increase in specialized cases. These deal with areas like immigration and environmental laws. The economic conditions have also not been very supporting of the bigger firms as they are finding it hard to manage huge administrative overheads. Out of these times has emerged the phenomenon of a boutique law firm. These have usually been formed by practicing lawyers who left bigger firms and started their own practices which focus on niche areas.

Characteristics of a Boutique law firm:

1. It is usually smaller than a general practice law firms. At times it could just consist of one or two lawyers who have come together due to a shared passion for a particular area of law.

2. Most of these have been formed by attorneys who left bigger law firms to start their own practices. A good example is Chicago Law Partners which was started by five attorneys from Chicago law firm of Neal, Gerber and Eisenberg.

3. It focuses on a niche or a few niche areas rather than all aspects of law and order. For example, Chicago Law Partners takes up cases only for not-for-profit organizations.

4. They market themselves as “specialists” in their chosen area like immigration laws or maritime laws.

5. The fees charged by these firms are usually higher than the conventional general practice law firms.

Pros compared to a conventional law firm:

• A firm that handles all kind of cases may not have the depth and knowledge required for specialized cases say a divorce which involves child custody.

• If you find a boutique law firm which is passionate about your cause, you may be able to get their services at lower cost. And the dedication that stems from their passion for the cause is an added bonus.

• A boutique law firm because of its knowledge and involvement may be able to assist with investigating the case besides fighting it on your behalf.

• The staff at a boutique firm tends to provide more than just legal advice. Due to their vast experience, they can also provide personal and professional advice to deal with the issues you may be facing during your legal battle.

Cons compared to a conventional law firm:

• First is the cost of hiring such a firm which will be higher than that of hiring a conventional firm. This may reduce over time given their lower overheads but that is still to be seen.

• They may not have enough staff which could be deterrent at times for the case in hand.

As a concept it looks to be a better option than a conventional set-up especially for handle highly complex and specific cases. But, are firms ready to focus on just one area, is yet to be proven in the long run. Also needs to be proven is the implication that they are more than just small law firms attired in a new garb.

Law Firm’s Social Responsibility Programs – Do Well – Do Good

Law firms, like corporate organizations, plans to undertake social responsibility programs. The main motive of this program is to become a part of social welfare by doing some good jobs. These programs can effectively enhance the market value and reputation of the firm. By this, culture of law firms gets similar to that of their client’s culture. Thus, the staffs and lawyers can improve their work. In other words, social responsibility programs make a firm more concerned, generous and dedicated in terms of time and effort.

People are the products of any law firm, and the supporting staffs and lawyers are responsible for providing quality services on legal matters. Now, these “products” of a law firm can in many ways give their treasure, time and talent to social activities.

Focus and Approach

Social responsibility of a legal firm is to create a difference within the firm itself and within the profession and community. The best effort might not have the expected impact when it is not spread far and wide. When the efforts are much diluted, there is no scope for maximizing the value of the contribution. So, to make effective investment of the resources, law firms need ‘social responsibility focus and strategy’. Efforts related to social responsibility are essentially authentic. The ability and culture of your firm will decide which effort you will avoid or pursue.

Social responsibility and culture of a law company represents the interest of all the supporting staffs together with the lawyers. Meaningful efforts are desirable, and employees’ satisfaction, retention and recruitment, play a remarkable role. Legal services, the core product of any law firm, are the greatest tools to bring social change.

Good Policies Lead To Good Decision

‘Strategy and focus’ lay the foundation to build up successful social responsibility policies. A policy teaches you when you can say “YES” and when you can say “NO”. In a law firm, all the partners are the owners and are free to use the resources. That is why it is quite hard to say NO in a law firm. However, a focused policy will make the task easier and at the same time keep the efforts of the firm on track.

Engagement

A correct social responsibility program not only engrosses checkbook involvement, it also encompasses professional and personal involvement. Active engagement of the staffs and lawyers is the top priority. A new attorney can attain success if he has involvement and engagement with its community, besides possessing legal skills. While providing a review of any lawyer, he should necessarily mention his community involvement.

Corporate sectors check the outcomes of the social responsibility programs undertaken by them and then use these examined result in implementing their efforts in the future. It is advisable that law companies must follow the same track and so the same. Corporate sphere is found to have benefitted from a strategically planned social responsibility programs. A program, having firm guidance and keen focus, is sure to have a greater impact. Commitment of talent and time is necessary for a law firm.

Qualities of an Exceptional Personal Injury Law Firm

If you are involved in an accident whose occurrence was due to failure of another party to take reasonable care, the first step that you should take is to hire a personal injury lawyer. This will help you get compensation for the physical, mental, and emotional injuries you suffer due to the accident. However, for this to be possible, you will need to hire an exceptional attorney with all the relevant skills, experience, and knowledge to take on your case. Unfortunately, you cannot find such lawyers in any other law firm. They are only available in distinguished personal injury law firms. There are many law firms specializing in personal injury law. Nevertheless, there are those that stand out from the rest because they possess certain qualities, which makes it easy for them to win cases. These qualities include:

Qualified Staff

One important quality of an exceptional personal injury law firm is that its staff is qualified. Their staff should be knowledgeable on matters pertaining to this branch of law and have all the relevant skills and experience to see them through all injury lawsuits, specifically yours.

Capable of dealing with insurance firms

Most insurance firms do not like meeting claims. They will do everything possible to avoid compensating you for your injuries. An exceptional firm should have massive experience in handling representatives of insurance firms. The attorneys of such firms should be able to negotiating with the insurance company’s representatives so that they can reach an amicable solution and fair settlement or compensation for your injuries.

System of payment of contingency fees

A good law firm that specializes in this field understands that sometimes you might depend on the damages or settlement to pay their fees. Nevertheless, you are liable by law to pay for basic expenses. A good law firm however, will not force you to pay for the expenses until you recover a good amount or fair value of damages entitled to you. From there you can pay them. This is the ‘no verdict no fee’ or ‘no recovery, no fee’ or ‘no settlement, no fee’ type of system.

Specialization

To get an exceptional firm to handle your case, you must choose that which specialize in personal injury law. If finding such a firm is difficult, this is almost impossible, look for the firm with a personal injury law department. Such firms have all a lot of experience to help them deal with personal injury cases and have probably handled a variety of cases related to personal injury, as they are never the same.

Other specialization

Apart from the firm’s lawyers having good knowledge in the field, they should also have reasonable experience in litigation. They should have the necessary skills to carry out important motions. In addition, they should be skilled in paperwork, which the court and the insurance companies expect in civil cases and in insurance claims.

Use other professionals

The firm should be able to hire and retain the services of other professionals. To have all the necessary information to help them win the case, they will need the information that the government agencies have. This means they will need to hire private investigators to collect information as to the cause of the accident, the negligent party, and to protect evidence, which could solidify and protect your case.

Getting to Know the People Working at a Law Firm

Legal aid seekers may find it hard to determine whom to talk to regarding their concerns because of the many people who are employed in a law firm, especially the large ones. These frequently happen particularly if the law office lacks an information desk to assist their clients. Hence, this article will try to help you identify those personnel and their jobs for you to know who to approach for your particular case.

In common legal practices, law firms have a certain hierarchal structure. This is to create a smooth flowing relationship among the employees, particularly concerning their task. Here is a typical list of a law firm staff:

1. Law Firm Owners – They are commonly referred to as partners. Usually, the law firm is named after them since they are the most prestigious lawyers in the company. Because of their vast experience and expertise in their field, their service fees are considered the highest.

2. Legal Associates – These individuals are also lawyers. However, they do not share the ownership of the firm. Associates have much lesser experience as compared to partners, but may also be very good in their own specialization. In due time, they may possibly be partners in the firm. Clients may also expect lower charges from them.

3. Contractual Lawyers – If in case the employed lawyers are not enough to handle the upsurge of cases brought by their clients, the law firm may hire contractual lawyers. They serve as supports to the associates and doing they work on a part-time basis. They are being paid based on an hourly rate and mostly getting higher compensation from their other clients outside a firm.

4. “Of Counsels” – Commonly, these lawyers are formerly connected with a law firm who opted to continue his or her relationship with the company after his or her quasi-retirement. Nevertheless, it is up to the owners of the firm to decide regarding their working arrangement.

5. Legal Clerks – Usually, they are law students who are tasked to work on legal researches or to assist the lawyers in setting up their clients’ cases. They also do other jobs that may be assigned to them by the lawyers. This serves as their training ground for their future profession as lawyers.

6. Paralegals – Legally trained individuals but do not have their professional licenses yet. Ordinarily, they are equipped with practical knowledge of the law that may be very useful for the lawyers to whom they work with.

7. Secretaries – Their role is very vital for every lawyer. They help in organizing the schedules, making client calls, and all other tasks that may be appointed to them by the lawyers.

8. Legal Investigators – They are assigned to work in the field, to make an investigation on a certain case handled by the law firm.

9. Administrations Officers – They are in-charge of the internal dealings of the law firm. Depending on their need, law firms may hire a human resource officer, accountant and any other important positions.

10. Receptionists – They are the front-liners of a law firm, assisting the clients about their legal concerns and ensuring them of having a great visit to the office.

Without Disruptive Innovation, Many IP Law Firms Destined to Meet Same Fate As Buggy Whip Makers

A possible upside to the recent economic downturn is that many previously accepted business models are being revealed as in need of substantial reinvention or even total elimination. The billable hour/leverage law firm model for legal services is one of these increasingly maligned business models, and is now appearing to be in danger of ending up in the dustbin of history. Specifically, even those who benefit handsomely from the billable hour, such as the Cravath firm’s many $800 per hour lawyers, now realize the fundamental irrationality of charging a client for time spent instead of value provided. This alone should signal that change is in the air.

Notwithstanding the growing conversation about the need for alternative client service models, I fear that the majority of IP law firms will either try to ignore the desire for change or will respond by offering only incremental modifications to their existing methods of providing legal services to their clients. As someone with considerable experience dealing with IP lawyers, I believe that, unfortunately, the conservative nature of most IP attorneys means that IP firms will likely lag behind in client service innovations. Thus, I am of the opinion that many prestigious and historically highly profitable IP law firms will in the foreseeable future cease to exist.

I reach this conclusion as a result of various salient experiences. In one of these, several years ago, I approached a managing partner of a well-known IP law firm with suggestions of how to decrease the number of attorney hours expended on client matters. At that time, the firm was beginning to experience considerable push back from clients about the cost of routine legal services. I noted to the managing partner that he could lower the cost non-substantive e.g., administrative client IP matters, by assigning such tasks to lower billing paralegals. His response to this idea: “If paralegals did the work, what would the 1st and 2nd year associates do?”

Of course, the central premise of the managing partner’s response was that in order to keep the gears of the firm’s billable hour/leverage partner model turning smoothly, he needed to keep the young associates busy billing by the hour. The existing paradigm of his law firm required that it keep hiring associates to increase partner leverage and ensure that they efficiently billed clients by the hour, with a significant portion of each associate’s billed time directly going into the partner’s pockets. Left out of this business model was whether the clients’ best interests were properly served by the model that best served the law firm’s partnership.

Clearly, this law firm was not well managed, which might serve as an excuse for the managing partner’s self-serving perspective on client IP legal services. However, my experience as a corporate buyer of IP legal services further revealed that that the billable hour/leverage partner business model was an arrangement that frequently ut the client–which was now me–after the law firm’s interests.

As an in-house counsel spending several $100K’s per year for legal services at a number of respected IP firms, I consistently felt that when I called outside counsel for assistance the first thought that popped into the lawyer’s mind was “So glad she called–I wonder how much work this call is going to lead to?” More often than not, I got the sense that my outside IP lawyers viewed my legal concerns as problems for them to solve on a per hour basis, not as issues that might affect the profits of the company for which I worked. The difference is subtle, but critical: the context of the former is lawyer as a service provider, whereas the latter is lawyer as a business partner.

Against these experiences, I was not surprised at what I heard recently when discussing my feelings about the billable hour/leverage model with a partner friend at one of the top IP specialty law firms in the US. This partner echoed my sentiments about the need for innovation in IP client services. However, she also indicated that most of her firm’s partners do not recognize that there is a problem with the way they currently provide IP legal services to their clients. As she told it, many of her more senior partners have been living well on the billable hour/leverage model, so they currently see little need to modify their behavior. My partner friend nonetheless realizes that her law firm is critically ill and is likely to soon experience something akin to sudden cardiac arrest. Sadly, she is not a member of her law firm’s management and, since there is no upper level recognition that change is needed, it would serve little purpose for her to raise her concerns to those partners who could effect change (and would probably not be politically expedient for her to do so).

The failure of these currently well-compensated IP law firm partners to recognize the shifting winds of their client’s acceptance of their billing practices–the fundamental basis of their law firm’s business model–mirrors the response of entrenched interests throughout history to innovations that did not mesh with their existing business model paradigm. Moreover, the inability of many IP law firms to recognize the climate for change leads me to believe that many of these venerated law firms will soon meet the fate of buggy whip manufacturers if they do not innovate in the manner by which they provide legal services to their clients.

Playing out this analogy, buggy whip manufacturers met their demise because they thought they were in the buggy whip business when they were actually in the transportation business. When buggy whips became obsolete, so did these formerly prosperous manufacturers. Notably, buggy whip manufacturers possessed the ability to change and thrive in the new world of the automobile. They already held strong business relationships with the buggy manufacturers that became the first automobile companies. They also employed skilled craftsmen who could have turned their efforts to making leather seat covers or other aspects of the automobile. These buggy whip manufacturers needed only to accept that they needed to ride the wave of innovation occurring at that time and reinvent themselves as suppliers to automobile manufacturers instead of buggy makers.

Like buggy whip manufacturers, I believe that many lawyers have become so entrenched in the law firm business that they have effectively forgotten that they are first legal services providers. As people charged with ensuring the continued vitality of the business, law firm lawyers often become primarily fee generators in that the fees are obtained from billing clients by the hour for legal services. Care and feeding of the law firm and its partners by ensuring constant creation of billable hours therefore often takes precedence over the legal needs of clients. Also analogous to buggy whip manufactures, IP lawyers working in law firms have the ability to change to prevent obsolescence. Indeed, these lawyers possess the requisite skills to continue practicing their craft outside of the existing paradigm of the law firm. Still further akin to buggy whip manufacturers, lawyers also have the existing relationships with customers i.e., clients, which gives them a valuable head start over newcomers who wish to enter the IP legal service arena using innovative, but unfamiliar, client service models.

Using the well-known picture of obsolescence presented by buggy whip manufacturers more than 100 years ago, I believe that IP lawyers who recognize that they must embrace innovation in the way they provide IP legal services to clients will be poised for success when their clients decide that the time for change has arrived. On the other hand, lawyers who believe they are in the IP law firm business will invariably be left behind when innovations in client service enter the marketplace that render the law firm business model obsolete.

IP lawyers should not expect that they will be able to predict when their clients will demand change. As with the customers of buggy whip manufacturers, law firm clients will not serve their IP counsel with notice warning prior to taking their business to lawyers who provide them with innovative, and more client-centric, service models. To the contrary, when clients are finally presented with acceptable alternatives, they will naturally migrate to the innovation that best meets their business needs. The result will be that one day, these currently successful IP lawyers will likely wake up to realize that they are losing their clients in droves to lawyers who succeeded in developing and introducing an innovative client service model to the world. And, as most lawyers will tell you, once a client is gone, they are likely gone forever.

Not only will clients fail to announce that they intend to leave their law firm before they do so, they also will not tell their lawyers how you can serve them better. Why should they–they are not in the business of providing legal services. Accordingly, mutually beneficial client service innovations must be generated by and because of lawyer action. But, because of their inherently conservative nature, I believe that many IP lawyers may fail to realize that innovation is critical until it is too late to preserve their client base.

Some might contend that complaints about the billable hour model have abounded for many years, but no major changes have occurred to date, thus indicating that most clients may be all bluster and no action. While it is certainly true that clients exerted no real pressure on lawyers for change in the past, circumstances are markedly different today than before. Disruptive innovation is rocketing through society, and many formerly solid business models, such as newspapers and recorded music, are now teetering on the cusp of demise as a result.

The signals are there that law IP firms that rely on the billable hour/leverage model appear poised to experience significant stress from clients and critics in the near future. Those relying on this model for their livelihood would be well-served to look for innovative ways to address this changing environment. In short, those who think that the billable hour/leverage law firm model will escape the transformative business innovations of the current era are merely “whistling past the graveyard.” IP law firms, as well as other types of law firms, must innovate now and innovate big or I fear they will suffer the fate of the buggy whip makers.