Hiring The Biggest Law Firm You Can Afford Can Lead To Disaster

You should hire a law firm that wants your business and will prioritize your matter. The bigger the firm, the less important you are to the firm.

“Will Client Die After Mail Room Mix Up?”

This was the heading of a recent article on the ABA Blog.  Sullivan & Cromwell, an international law firm with thousands of lawyers and offices in many cities had taken a death row inmate’s appeal pro bono (without charge).  The firm assigned two young associates to the case.  The associates left the firm and not long after  an Alabama court sent the firm copies of a ruling denying post-conviction relief, but addressed the correspondence to the departed lawyers. The mailroom returned the unopened mail to the court clerk along with a note, “Return to Sender—Left Firm.” The firm didn’t seem to have assigned new lawyers to the case as it failed to appeal the ruling within the 42 days the rules require.

Now the Supreme Court will decide whether Sullivan & Cromwell’s error will preclude further appeals of Cory Maples and set his execution in motion.

Wild story, huh? What happened here happens all the time.  And there is a lesson in the story for you.   A law firm is a business.  The bigger the firm, the more it is run like a business.  The attention your matter receives is related to its importance to the firm.

Sullivan & Cromwell didn’t care if it won or lost the appeal. This giant firm assigned two newbie lawyers to handle the death penalty appeal, so the goal wasn’t to win.  The goal was to be able to say that the firm does pro bono work on important matters.  If they had cared then the case would have been handled by an experienced lawyer at the firm.

Hiring the biggest firm you can sounds sensible, but you are unlikely to be its most important client. If you need a lawyer you should interview several.  Discuss who will do the work on your case, and who is responsible for your file.  You should hire a firm that makes your case a priority.


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