Posted by: johnocunningham | October 22, 2015

Do Clients Really Hire the Lawyer and Not the Firm?

I was browsing through my news feeds today and noticed a short article on “Lawyers, Law Firms and Sophisticated Buyers” penned by Mark Cohen, the CEO of LegalMosaic, a legal consulting practice.

What caught my attention is the idea that big name lawyers might be hired by sophisticated consumers, regardless of the firm in which they reside. Indeed, many sophisticated buyers of legal services have told me (and many public audiences) that they “hire the lawyer and not the firm.”

I get the notion that the article posits about many consumers wanting to hire the expert, but not the expensive baggage that comes with expertise at a big firm.

But I wonder how many sophisticated buyers have the fortitude to “hire the lawyer and not the firm” when there is no downtown address on the letterhead, but there is a “bet the company” risk to the matter for which the lawyer is hired.

As a General Counsel, I certainly put some faith in legal experts outside of large firms, but I always scrutinized those providers closely, and had to feel certain that they were the very best choice I could make. I also had more appetite for risk than my legal peers.

As of now, it is my perception that most sophisticated buyers at public companies or large institutions still want their board of directors and other higher-ups to recognize the stable of lawyers behind  the lawyer of choice, just in case things go south and the lawyer of choice does not quite perform as expected.

The perception is that you will never get fired for hiring the lawyer at a “brand name” firm, but you could get fired for hiring the right lawyer at a small firm who just happens to lose a case or deliver less than stellar transactional results, regardless of fault.

Part of the power of a brand, is the perception of safety it delivers.

One thing is for sure, however. As the author observed: “The business of law is changing quickly. A harsh light is being cast on the utility and necessity of the traditional law firm structure. After all, clients hire lawyers, not law firms.” Over time, that will mean more changes ahead for law firms, especially as clients get bolder.


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