For many years, one popular adage among corporate counsel seeking legal services was that "no one gets fired hiring Skadden Arps," or other multi-national firms of that size. Maybe they should.
No matter how many attorneys appear on a firm's letterhead, it is ultimately the experience, skill and expertise of the attorney handling your case that determines the quality of legal representation. No one ever asked Clarence Darrow how many associates he had. Honest Abe Lincoln's firm consisted of two guys practicing in one large room in Springfield, Illinois. And, lest one think that times have changed to render these antiquated references irrelevant, famed trial attorney Gerry Spence still practices in Jackson, Wyoming without hundreds of lawyers by his side. In fact, for all his national notoriety, the Spence Law Firm has never swelled beyond 15 lawyers.
In tight budget times, corporate counsel are beginning to realize that size doesn't matter. But the size of the bill certainly does. And while attorneys at larger firms may not try a case any better than Lincoln, Darrow or Spence, their invoices match the size of their firms. While hourly rates at Big Law may approach or even exceed $1,000 per hour, those practicing at smaller firms with less overhead frequently handle cases for a fraction of what their larger competitors charge.
Not only are hourly rates more reasonable at these firms, but a smaller shop must staff its cases more efficiently. When I started my career at a firm boasting 160 attorneys, virtually every case was touched by multiple attorneys. When we discussed issues with each other, each of us billed our time. Our clients, typically large corporations with little time or motivation to scrutinize bills, paid their attorneys to talk to each other. The quality of representation wasn't any better than that which I provide today. Just more expensive.
At trial, I have never once had a jury ask me for my hourly rate or the size of my firm before hearing my opening statement, attending to my direct and cross examination of witnesses, or listening to my closing arguments. The same is true for my opposing counsel. Whether my opponent sits alone or with five of his partners, only one lawyer may face the jury at any given time. And when we do, it is the quality of the attorney, not the size of his firm or the size of his invoice, that really matters.