Tuesday, July 31, 2001

What To Expect When You Are Suing or Being Sued
(Work in Progress)

Continuation of Chapter One


Big Law Firms vs. Small Law Firms vs. Solo Practitioners

In the last discussion (see earlier post), we enumerated seven basic tips in choosing a lawyer when you are suing or being sued. These are as follows: 1. Choose a litigation lawyer; 2. Choose a lawyer who knows how to communicate; 3. Choose a lawyer who has handled a similar case in the past. 4. Choose a lawyer who is accessible; 5. Choose a lawyer who has time for your case; 6. Choose a lawyer you can trust; and, 7. Choose a lawyer you can afford. These qualities are not idealistic. Believe me, they exist. You just have to find the right person.

In choosing lawyers, one of the most common decision points is whether to get a big law firm, a small firm or a solo practitioner. The following will help you navigate through the maze and hopefully get you the right lawyer for the job.

Where you can find them.
In the Philippine legal circle, the lawyers are either practicing with big law firms (about 30 to 100 lawyers), small law firms (more than two but less than 30 lawyers), or alone. In the cities, you can find the law firms. The big ones are mostly in Makati and Ortigas. The small ones are in other parts of Metro Manila. Cebu and Davao have satellite offices of the big firms in Makati. The single practitioners are often found in the provinces. The Lawyer's Review has a listing of law firms and solo practitioners. It includes email, telephone and office addresses. Ask for an appointment and ask them how they categorize their law firms in terms of the above.

It's still the Seven Traits
In shopping for legal service, the ultimate standards are still those seven traits mentioned above. You may have hired a big law firm, but if the lawyer assigned to you happens to miss out on the above traits -- like for example, she's got too much work and is not easy to access, then your illusions of having a top gun law firm is nothing. Thus, in the primary consideration is still the above seven traits, big firm or small firm.

The Edge of the Big Law Firms
The distinction between big and small firms is, however, relevant when you consider the expanse of your legal requirements. Big law firms normally have an expert on every legal aspect of litigation. If your case involves an intricate web of estate, corporate, criminal and civil issues that also involves appearing before different courts, the big law firms may have better resources to help you. They have more lawyers who can be pulled into the team even just for advice when litigation begins to thread on unfamiliar grounds. However, if your case involves a simple violation of bouncing checks law, hiring a big law firm may be inappropriate.

The Edge of the Small Law Firms

If you are the type who likes to work with people they can be friends with, the small law firms are likely for you. Small law firms have more time to be personable with their clients. The premise is small law firms have a smaller client base, though not necessarily smaller revenues. Thus, they have more time for customer relations. You call them after office hours for a drink, they'd be there for you. Moreover, they would not mind you calling late since their schedules are not as structured as the lawyers in the big firms. However, the impression that they will charge less as against big law firms is not a generalization that can be made easily. We will discuss this later on this chapter. But for the moment, disengage your minds from the idea that a small law firm will charge you less than big law firm for the same work. It is not the case.

Outside the Metropolis
If you have to litigate outside Metro Manila, you may wish to consider the local lawyers instead of bringing in your lawyers from the firms. To begin with, city lawyers will charge you for the travel expenses that can amount to a lot. You save on that with local lawyers. Second, local lawyers are more familiar with how things work in their courts. They know what makes the judge and his staff tick. This will come in handy in situations when distance is a disadvantage -- e.g. a TRO on its way to your doorstep and you don't even know it. But be sure to ask around for the local superstars. There are a lot of good practitioners in the provinces. You will be surprised. However, if you cannot find the seven traits in any of the local lawyers, go for your trusted big law firm lawyers. Your savings will amount to nothing, if you lose your case anyway.

Appellate Proceedings
In appellate proceedings, I believe the law firms have the edge as against the sole practitioner. The big law firms usually assign three lawyers to work on the case. The junior associate does most of the legwork. The senior associate is the operator -- the lawyer who can work on your case from the research to the proofreading of the final pleadings. The partner is the strategist, the man with the sage advice and the person who polishes the final product. Thus, the chances of error are minimized as more lawyers get a chance to review the pleading before it is filed. Thus, the bigger the law firm, the bigger the expectation for the firm to come up with good and well-researched pleadings. This will then enhance your chance of making it on appeal.

(To be continued)
Next edition: Haggling on the fees

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