Advantage Denton

October 3, 2010

BigLaw Culture Clash

Filed under: Uncategorized — Melissa Denton @ 7:58 pm

Melissa Denton I recently talked on the phone with a couple of lawyers who work with a large, very well advertised family law firm in a big city. Both of them were quite cordial. They took my call because I am an attorney. I was trying to find the right lawyer for a client.
The first lawyer I spoke with was an attorney with seven years as a lawyer and a couple of years of intern work before that. She was my first choice for this client because of her level of experience, excellent academic credentials and the fact that she had mentors in her firm with great experience in the client’s legal issue. When the case is not all that sophisticated, I often seek a lawyer with fewer or medium years of experience because they are likely to still find the case interesting and challenging and may bring more energy and enthusiasm to the enterprise, thus serving the client better. Such a lawyer with great mentors is ideal, or so I thought.

It was a clash of cultures when the younger lawyer told me that she does not actually take clients of her own, that she works with senior lawyers who feel comfortable going into court. It may be that she has found a comfortable niche as a lawyer who fears going to court or it may actually be a legitimate career track in BigLaw to not have clients or court appearances after seven or nine years of family law practice. In the lawyer finding business is is very unusual to run across a lawyer who advertises that they take clients, but says on the phone that they don’t.

It was most kind of her to refer me to the senior associate in her firm who has very extensive practice in the field of law needed by the client. When I spoke with this lawyer, it was another bit of a culture shock. While very polite, this attorney made it clear that she had done thousands of cases in an area related to what my client needed but she did not want me to waste my time telling her what the client needed. She immediately asked me if I was looking for some type of referral fee. When I said no, but that I was asking for the lawyer to give a half hour of their consultation free to the client, she said she did not have authority to grant such a thing. She referred me to one of two staff members who do management in the firm.

From this second lawyer, I took away the impression that she was being very cautious that I was not some kind of scam artist trying to take advantage of her or her law firm. She was very pleasant, but considered it “not her job” to make a decision about whether to grant a half hour of interview in order to get a potentially lucrative client. I think that her BigLaw orientation dictated her response, which was to shove me off to staff. Most all other lawyers would be curious enough to listen to what the client needed, whether they had money to pay, and to find out that the client had paid $99 to have a lawyer found for them.

Even more than the BigLaw culture clash I experienced in these conversations, I took away the message that many people are very ready to distrust you. Even if you are a fellow attorney, you are a threat if you don’t come from a well established brand. In my other experiences with attorneys, they inquire enough to hear what is on the table and they take the entrepreneurial risk of giving a half hour interview to a client. In BigLaw, it appears that such decisions are beneath the interest or beyond ┬áthe pay grade of the attorneys.

Though I was honored to speak to two attorneys at the firm, the two possible support staff authorization agents were unavailable. I hope my voice mail will cause them to call me back and I hope that I can enlist the services of this well qualified law firm to help the client. If they don’t want business, though, they must not be the right lawyer for the client.

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