A team model for handling cases in the small office: you can maximize each lawyer's strengths by involving all of them in case preparation

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Date: Jan. 2002
From: Trial(Vol. 38, Issue 1)
Publisher: American Association for Justice
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,888 words

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Trial lawyers must be aggressive and able to take on any defendant to get good results for clients. We are strong, self-sufficient individuals, which is why trial lawyers who associate in firms often essentially operate their own practices. Even if the practice is successful, this method of working can lead to an inefficient law office. Our office uses a different organizational model in which teamwork is the primary goal.

We practice in medical negligence, nursing home negligence, and personal injury. We handle only plaintiff cases. There are three partners: Nancy, a 41-year-old white female; Sylvester, a 49-year-old African-American male (we call him "Sly"); and Paul, a 41-year-old white male.

Nancy and Sly worked as defense lawyers at a large firm for 10 years before opening the plaintiff practice nine years ago. Paul was a plaintiff attorney for 15 years before joining the firm three years ago. Nancy and Sly have young children; Paul has none.

Members of our office staff also function as part of the litigation team. For example, our receptionist is in charge of ordering medical records. One legal assistant schedules depositions, and another conducts Medline searches and other forms of Internet research. The office manager handles travel arrangements.

Why try teamwork?

Law firms can be negative places. In many firms, partners are compensated based on what they "produce" as measured by dollars--either in billable hours or contingency fees. Partners also get credit for clients they bring in.

This organizational approach can, and often does, lead to internal competition and conflict. To eliminate these issues, we decided to abandon the "eat what you kill" philosophy to reduce stress and promote a supportive environment. Partners are compensated equally. There are no individual clients, only firm clients.

Our model also compensates for the inherent insecurity that law practice can foster in attorneys. This insecurity can stem from many factors, including the opinion-based nature of our jobs. Trial lawyers frequently compare analyses of issues and cases with colleagues.

Suppose a 35-year-old man dies as a result of medical negligence, leaving his wife and two small children. He earned $25,000 per year. What is the case worth? As you know, there are many answers to that question, based totally on the experience and judgment of the lawyer who responds. We believe that it is more efficient and accurate to have all the partners in the firm analyze and evaluate cases together.

That allows us to bring three different and valuable perspectives to a case--and it promotes discussion of the factual and legal issues so that all partners understand its strengths and weaknesses. We have a common goal: to get the best result for our client and our firm.

The team model is also more efficient. For example, one of the big challenges in a plaintiff practice is to keep everything moving. If everyone is...

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