By Andrew Dick, Founder and President,Select Counsel (selectcounsel.law)
Big Law traditionally has been the go-to answer for general counsel who need outside legal advice, but Big Law experience isn’t exclusive to big firms. Since the economic downturn a decade ago, the legal landscape has changed. In recent years, many prominent lawyers with niche practices have been leaving big firms to launch or join small firms.
Under pressure to raise rates every year, partners are considering new practice models that better align with their clients’ interests. Many have found they can offer the same service at a far more attractive rate by going off on their own.
The rise in conflicts resulting from law firm mergers is another common reason lawyers have left big firms to set up their own practices. As full-service firms seek to bolster their variety of practice areas and broaden their geographic reach via mergers, the opportunity for conflicts has increased dramatically.
And thanks to technology it’s easy for lawyers to set up shop anywhere. A decade ago, starting your own law practice was a big deal. It involved a significant initial investment in infrastructure and support. Now, a small firm can be set up and operated securely for a few hundred dollars per month.
Big Law experience in small settings
Now more than ever, these high-end boutique firms are in vogue. They can offer insight, value and pricing flexibility without the overhead of large firms.
Joe Gioconda has successfully litigated cases against some of the toughest patent and trademark infringers and counterfeiters. Formerly a partner at Kirkland & Ellis and DLA Piper, he formed a boutique practice focused on intellectual property litigation.
“Our goal is simple: to provide our clients with the expertise and experience of a large law firm, but with the focus and service of a boutique,” Gioconda said.
Finding the right lawyer for the job
Lawyers with high levels of experience in focused practices who have made the jump from big firms offer a cost-effective solution for clients.
Finding the right lawyer at the right time with the right expertise, however, can be a challenge. There is both a demand for these experienced, niche practitioners and an increasing supply, but no easy way to connect the two.
High-end solo lawyers typically find clients by word of mouth referrals. Andrew Abramowitz knows how important this can be. He is a transactional attorney who launched his own practice in 2010, following years of intensive experience as a partner and associate at the New York offices of prominent, international law firms such as Davis Wright Tremaine, Greenberg Traurig and Willkie Farr & Gallagher.
Abramowitz said connecting with potential clients can be difficult because they usually don’t know where to look. “Typically, clients won’t find me unless I am personally referred by a client or colleague,” Abramowitz said.
Making the connection
Select Counsel is a curated network of lean, focused practitioners that makes it easier for legal departments to find Big Law experience across a full range of practices areas. Through its free SelectConcierge service, the team provides a quick and tailored experience, pinpointing the specific Select Counsel members best suited for the matter at hand.
Clients have become more sensitive to the need to staff every case for efficient administration and effective resolution, and general counsel are beginning to exert more leverage when they’re interviewing law firms.
Small-firm attorneys with big-firm experience understand the big-firm pitfalls: high billing rates, costly overhead and inefficient layers of attorneys. They also bring big-firm benefits: high quality work product and service levels expected by sophisticated clients.