• October 17, 2013

Gunslinger

The scales of justice are an ironic symbol of the legal profession because they almost always are shown as being in balance.  In civil litigation, though, there are usually winners and losers and the scales are often out of balance.

Elizabeth Wright, principal at Latitude Litigation, is part of a changing legal services landscape where almost everyone has a clear shot at a resounding win — at least Elizabeth, her law firm clients, and their corporate clients.

Outsourcing is becoming more commonplace in the legal profession.  Corporate legal departments more and more are engaging contract attorneys from firms like Counsel on Call.  For years, law firms have been using contract attorneys from firms like Special Counsel, often for document reviews. The American Bar Association has described the use of contract lawyers as “a salutary [practice] for our globalized economy.”  ABA Formal Op. 08-451.  Despite the ABA’s endorsement, incorporating highly-skilled and experienced litigation attorneys on a project (or case) basis as integral, but temporary, members of the litigation team has been less common.  Wright finds that anomalous because this arrangement can be highly profitable all the way around.

Especially in recent years, work flow issues and decreased profits per partner have vexed many law firms (almost every law firm) large and small in the Twin Cities and nationwide.  Now that litigators are in increasing demand, law firms must balance the need to add attorneys to staff increasing numbers of new matters with conservative hiring budgets.  While increased business is a good thing, no firm enjoys making staff reductions when the work slows down.

Moreover, the downturn in the economy has only increased clients’ pressure on firms to lower their legal fees and costs.  At the same time, clients are demanding increasing technical expertise from their litigators in addition to top-notch legal skills.

Over the twenty years as a litigator at Dorsey & Whitney, LLP, Elizabeth noticed that much of her work — her diverse litigation practice focused on mass torts — came from lawyers at other firms around the country who recognized, in addition to her legal expertise, her skill with medical, scientific and technical matters.  As a result, she was included on teams of attorneys, usually from multiple law firms, assigned to handle mass tort litigation.  As a Dorsey attorney, however, the out-of-state firms that enlisted her assistance on various projects, did not realize any financial benefit from sharing the work with her.

Wright realized that the solution to all of these issues — demand volatility, downward fee pressures, the demand for increased technical expertise and the increasing use of teams from multiple law firms to staff large litigation — could be addressed by engaging sophisticated contract litigators — the proverbial hired gun.  Because of their lower overhead, highly experienced contract litigators like Wright offer services at a greatly reduced rates — on par with that of the billing rates for much less experienced associates at the larger Minnesota firms.

(And never forget the older lawyers adage, “As a young lawyer, I lost cases I should have won.  As a more experienced lawyer, I won cases I should have lost.”)

Moreover, the existing associates at firms that hire Wright are not threatened by the use of highly-experienced contract attorneys because they do not add increased competition to the partnership track nor do they compete for training opportunities. And, unlike those associates, case-specific litigators do not increase the firm’s overhead.  If the case suddenly settles, firms that hire Wright are not left with an extra attorney looking for work.

When you or or law firm needs deep experience and wants to hire litigation fire-power case-by-case, do not waste time.  Do save money.  Contact Elizabeth Wright via her email: e.wright@latitudelitigation.com.

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