Taking a casual look at the legal market it’s easy to get the false impression that every legal issue requires a specialist lawyer. After all, boutique firms are everywhere handling matters in discrete areas like family law, business law, intellectual property, civil litigation, and real estate. Every lawyer website has a seemingly mandatory list of practice areas that can read like a menu. The most common question asked of an attorney after being introduced is something like “what is your specialty?”
The trouble with this model where every lawyer is seen as a specialist is that attorneys can start looking like unrelated stores in a shopping mall. You need a contract drafted or reviewed? Go to this attorney. Thinking about bankruptcy? Go to that attorney over there. Getting a divorce? There’s a third attorney to work with. Renting out a house? Better hire a landlord firm. Then there are personal injuries, traffic tickets, DUIs, estate planning, and more.
Only, these matters are not unrelated. Entering into a contract, going through bankruptcy, and getting a divorce are not like buying new clothes, a music CD, and some books. Each of these legal matters can, and probably will, affect the others. Therefore, it’s helpful for a client to have a legal mind on their side that is knowledgeable of all their legal matters even if some of them are handled by other attorneys.
Large corporations know this fact very well and that is why they have general counsels. These general counsels are full time employees of their respective corporations hired to oversee the legal matters for that business. They may not handle everything for the corporation. General counsels routinely send work to outside lawyers and firms – especially litigation – for a variety of reasons. Nonetheless, they remain informed about and help guide the legal work that is handled outside of their offices.
I believe that every person should have a personal attorney who acts as the equivalent of general counsel or family doctor. This is the trusted attorney one calls up first. This attorney won’t necessarily handle every legal matter for the client, but they will help coordinate and ensure matters don’t slip through the cracks or conflict. I would like to be that kind of attorney for you even if it was a search for a solution to one particular problem that brought you to me.
Here is a partial list of benefits of having a general practitioner.
- More Efficient and Cost Effective Legal Services
- A Holistic and Goal Oriented Approach
- More Flexible Billing
- A Knowledgeable Source for Attorneys with Particular Qualities or Knowledge
It takes time for every new attorney-client relationship to be established and for an attorney to learn about a new client. In general, an attorney can find legal answers for an existing client quicker, more efficiently, and accurately than the client is likely to find on their own by shopping for a new attorney.
When a potential client seeks out and meets a new attorney regarding a particular problem in a particular area of law the focus naturally rests on that problem and that realm of law. There is a risk that while focusing on an acute problem the long term goals for the client can be lost. A client can reduce this risk by investing time with their personal attorney discussing their goals and how the law may help the client meet them. A good lawyer doesn’t just navigate clients through difficult problems – he spots the problems in the distance and steers the client around them.
A client who has repeatedly hired a particular attorney and consistently paid for his work will probably find that such an attorney will be more flexible in their billing than another attorney that they just sought out.
A good attorney will be happy to refer a client to another attorney when that other attorney will be better able to meet his client’s needs. Most people do not know local attorneys the way other attorneys do. Even “full service” firms refer clients out to attorneys they know when that attorney is in a better position to serve that client’s needs.