When I was young, so much younger than today, I completely bought into the fairy tale that the best and brightest lawyers are all at the large law firms and that everyone else is just not that good. After all, they practically teach you that at law school, although they never quite say it aloud, so I imagine that they have plausible deniability.
You may have heard the saying that ‘If you owe a $100,000 to the Bank, you have a problem; but if you owe $100,000,000 to the Bank, the Bank has a problem.’
The first time that I saw this principle in action was in the case of a rather large company that became insolvent years ago. This company owed so much money and there was so little chance of any of it being recovered, that the Bank could not be bothered to spend the money required to shut it down, and no other creditor thought that it was worth their while to drive it into bankruptcy. So, the insolvent company kept sputtering along for quite a while.
When I started out in the legal profession many years ago, becoming a Partner at a law firm was the dream of every new lawyer. At the firm where I articled in 1979, each new Partner received two gifts from the firm upon being admitted to partnership. The first was a gold sculpture of Sisyphus, pushing the boulder up the hill. The second was a speakerphone, which at the time was new and exciting technology.
Back in the day, the practice of law was considered to be a profession first, and a business second. Over the years, there was a great deal of talk about how lawyers had to recognize that the practice of law was also a business, and to become more business-like in their approach. I expect that this had a lot to do with some combination of law firms becoming less profitable and law partners, like many in the corporate sector, becoming greedier.
How can you possibly explain why a lawyer at a substantial firm took on a file that was outside of his expertise and made a costly mistake, when that very same lawyer had three partners and two law clerks in his department, all of whom would have easily spotted the error if consulted? To make matters worse, had the lawyer involved one of the law clerks on the file to keep costs down, as would normally be done, the clerk would have immediately spotted the error. However, this lawyer chose to do all the work himself at a billing rate higher than the billing rate of the law clerks.
(Part 1 of Many)
Law firms like to encourage their lawyers to produce as many billable hours as possible. In order to keep the lawyers ‘motivated’, law firms usually set a target number of hours that they expect each lawyer to bill. Some firms like to set the target at a number which is higher than they expect the lawyers to bill.
I practiced with a medium sized firm in Mississauga, Ontario, which many of you may be surprised to know is the sixth largest city in Canada, just after Edmonton and ahead of Winnipeg and Vancouver. Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s several Toronto firms opened offices there. At that time, the buzz in the legal profession was that there was no future for medium sized law firms, and they would all be wiped out by the larger firms with their greater expertise. In fact, almost all the Toronto firms closed their offices in Mississauga after a short time, and the local firms have been doing just fine ever since.