Legal Knowledge, Skill,
Thoroughness, and Preparation
It really is a myth that sole practitioners or small firms face a greater challenge providing competent representation. What do attorneys in a big firm do to make anyone more competent? Supervise each other? The economics of a large firm practice are a disincentive against doing so – the time senior partners spend supervising detracts from the time spent marketing. Train each other? To some extent, but this is non-billable time, creating a disincentive against spending too much time teaching.
Particularly in larger firms, the idea that competence can be better assured through supervision often runs up against the economic incentive on partners to “push work down” to inexperienced associates (who are often more profitable per hour given that their hourly rate may be well above their compensation) rather than do such work – or even spend much time supervising it – themselves. Large size poses other challenges, such as a host of internal rules and procedures that emphasize raising rates and passing on overhead as opposed to improving the quality of services.
A solo or small practice may be better positioned to maintain competence by: (a) concentrating on certain areas of practice, (b) focusing the practice on certain courts, thus becoming more familiar with the local rules and the judges, and (c) working without being hindered by time spent dealing with the web of complex potential conflicts that is part of the daily life of large firms, leaving more time to concentrate on the client and the work to be done. Small practices also have the luxury of being able to hire talented part-time attorneys with special expertise, whereas such folks would never make it through the front door of a larger firm – or would, at minimum, be unavailable for some length of time while the firm’s bureaucracy made its hiring decision.
As Ross Perot said famously in venting his frustration at the bureaucracy of General Motors after merging his company with GM, “I come from an environment where, if you see a snake, you kill it. At GM, if you see a snake, the first thing you do is go hire a consultant on snakes. Then you get a committee on snakes and then you discuss it for a couple of years ….” We are committee-free and snake-free. We think it’s a better way to practice law.