When excellent lawyers leave big firms to become entrepreneurial contingent fee trial lawyers, they inevitably run into the “CYA effect.” This is the unfortunate tendency of many fearful General Counsel and corporate executives to hide behind a large, well-known firm in the event a case goes bad. Such was the experience of Elizabeth Starrs and her partners described in “Starting a Litigation Boutique.”
How ridiculous! It is frequently only the best lawyers who have the courage to strike out on their own. This may leave the bureaucrats and timid folk to handle these risky and important corporate cases. The big firms tend to hire high-grade law graduates at high dollar prices. To justify their salaries, they charge high hourly fees for the tutoring of neophytes. A corporate client looks at the bill and sees many lawyers, of unknown experience and abilities, charging outrageous fees for too many hours and unnecessary work– all because the corporate employees who hired the large firm want to cover their derrieres.
Starrs found that this corporate tendency led her firm toward representing privately owned and cost conscious companies and individuals. We have had the same experience, and it has been most gratifying. We listen. We solve problems. We have incentive to be cost efficient. Our ability to be profitable requires us to find the most efficient path to the goal line.
Since “turning from the dark side,” we and lawyers like us now represent David instead of Goliath. This occurs in virtually all forms of business cases, including patent litigation, breach of contract cases and complicated arbitrations. Of course, the “CYA” folks could repent! They could easily find the best, most efficient, trial lawyers, not just the largest firms and motivated hourly billers. Will they? I doubt it.
The best business people often leave large, cumbersome companies to go on their own. This is the era of the entrepreneur, in business and in law. General Counsel and corporate executives should have courage in seeking out the best lawyers for their case. After all, they were hired to do a job, not hide in the corner.