Most law firm websites don’t have a “credo” section, so why do I?

Simply put, it’s because, after spending much of my career in larger law firms, I’ve become extremely frustrated with the way in which the legal profession, led by large law firms, bills clients, approaches litigation and, all too often, exacerbates rather than solves problems. I strongly believe the legal profession and the US litigation system are verging on the dysfunctional, and it means a great deal to me to practice law in a different way.

My Approach

I approach each case with care, creativity and a commitment to civility and professionalism. My primary aim is to craft a solution that best serves the client’s goals, budget and legal position.

Occasionally, that means extremely aggressive litigation. More often, however, the better solution is to work hard to resolve disputes – either through negotiation, mediation or motion practice – before costs balloon too large and the litigation creates more disputes than it resolves.

Litigation in the US is slow, expensive, intrusive, highly burdensome and inefficient. Lawyers should attempt in every case to lessen these features, but often they end up exacerbating them. Few disputes get resolved by scorched-earth litigation tactics, but many litigators resort too easily to such tactics, which, perhaps not coincidentally, means higher fees for the lawyers as the parties battle over manufactured, tangential issues not related to their core dispute.

Litigation Is Too Expensive

Litigating in US courts has gotten ridiculously expensive – not because of the one-in-a-million astronomical verdict, but because of how “average” cases are litigated.

One of the primary reasons for the expense is that larger law firms, which for better or worse drive the culture of litigation, are institutionally compelled to bill clients at astronomical rates for work that is not directly related to the core dispute.

A client of a larger law firm is not paying primarily for the lawyer’s skill and expertise. Instead, the client is paying for the law firm’s expensive, art-laden offices, large staff, seven-figure profits per partner, out-of-control associate salaries, firm retreats and similar perks. Lawyers at larger firms are under internal and external pressures to bill clients more and more, and that pressure often discourages calm and deliberative decisions about what is best for clients rather than the firm’s bottom line. All too often, law firm partners reject easy and cost-effective strategies for resolving disputes in favor of more difficult and expensive strategies, which serve no one but the law firm.

Litigating for the Client, Not for the Fee

I am a lawyer because I believe I have certain skills and aptitudes that are suited to helping clients resolve stressful and difficult legal disputes. I am not a lawyer to make a million dollars a year, to send my kids to private school, to own a seven-figure residence or to drive a Jaguar. I keep my overhead and billing rates as low as possible while aspiring to make a reasonably comfortable living, and I work with clients to craft customized fee arrangements (flat fees, fee caps, discounts for advance payment, low hourly rates, or appropriate combinations) that introduce sanity and predictability into the cost of litigation.

My standard hourly rate is substantially lower than what the 100 largest law firms charge for a beginning associate’s time. I also strongly disapprove of the current practice of charging clients for routine expenses, such as printing, copying, postage, faxing and the like. Indeed, clients should worry about how business-aware a law firm is if it cannot figure out how to keep such costs low and absorb them into fees.

Trust is the Key to the Attorney-Client Relationship

I also believe clients need to be more involved in setting litigation strategy than larger firms encourage them to be. A good lawyer explains options, risks, potential expense and legal positions in a way non-lawyers can understand and then asks clients to take responsibility for making informed decisions consistent with their goals, risk tolerance and ability to pay.

In short, a client should trust his or her lawyer as an advisor, skilled advocate, problem-solving collaborator and confidant. All too often, however, lawyers end up undercutting that trust by milking clients for all they’re worth. My modest goal is to practice law in a manner consistent with principles of professionalism and client devotion that are enshrined in the rules of professional responsibility and the self-congratulatory rhetoric that lawyers use to exalt the legal profession – principles that, these days, seem honored more and more in word rather than deed.