Firm Blog

Many Diverse Ways To Structure A Law Firm

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There are numerous ways to organize a law firm, and different clients prefer different firm structures. Some firms have each attorney responsible for an entire case, from the day the clients walks in, through the “discovery” period (depositions, interrogatories, investigation, etc.), through settlement negotiations, trial and appeal. In a way, these firms are like a collective of solo practitioners, sharing support staff, offices, overhead, etc. Other firms are seniority-based, structured like a pyramid: the lowest associates perform the “grunt” work, the mid-level attorneys deal with the clients and prepare the cases for trial, and the most senior attorneys handle the trials and appeals. Another structure is best described as in the mold of a professional sports team: each member has one or more areas of expertise, and their roles at the firm are built around those areas. Our firm was built on that structure thirty years ago, and we have retained it throughout the history of the firm.

In any law firm structure, one attorney must be ultimately responsible for the handling of each case: client contact, deadlines, etc. A “handling attorney” is critical to ensure that the case is developed properly and the client knows who to speak with about issues. Having one, specific attorney who handles the case also fosters a healthy and meaningful attorney-client relationship. That is true for each of the three structures described above.

At our firm, we feel that the team-style structure helps the client obtain high quality representation throughout the numerous “litigation events” that occur as the case progresses. For example, the handling attorney may be very adept at “discovery” but someone else at the firm may have more expertise in insurance coverage disputes. So, if the defendant’s insurer is acting in bad faith and that is creating an obstacle to settlement, it may be worthwhile to bring in that attorney to assist. While all the attorneys at the firm are capable of writing excellent briefs, if the legal issue is particularly complex, it may be best to bring in an attorney with a particular expertise in complex brief-writing. When it is time for trial, it may be helpful to bring in one of the attorneys with trial experience in the particular subject matter of the case. After trial, there are two attorneys at our firm who handle the appeals, regardless of who handled the trial.

To make this type of sports team structure work requires constant communication among the attorneys, sharing what is happening with their cases and jumping in when they can help each other. This may be one of the reasons that our attorneys have lunch together every day (mid-day hunger is another reason). We also caucus about our cases regularly, educating each other about what we are working on and seeking each other’s advice and involvement whenever it could help the case. It is not the only way to structure a firm, and some attorneys and clients may prefer other structures. We have found it to be an effective way to provide high quality representation to our clients, while maintaining a very positive, trusting and inter-connected work environment.

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