The longer I practice in my new firm the more I am convinced that clients will inevitably suffer under the traditional partnership model. When partners have to answer to other partners, clients will lose, maybe not the General Motors Corporation clients, but the everyday companies and people who have a right to expect that their lawyer will protect their interests. Too often, the client’s interest is either directly or indirectly adverse to the partnership in general. The partnership is focused on profits and billables. The partnership wants to be paid immediately. The partnership wants increased retainer agreements before key events. The partnership doesn’t want any risk in the client’s matter. The partnership will hesitate to bring on new workers even when they are needed for fear that demand will go slack three months down the line.
Being an independent practitioner, I don’t have to answer to any partners. I am in a position to put my clients first, to eat billable time when necessary and appropriate and to take risks in the client’s matter. I don’t need approval to add staff or workers if I have a client with an immediate need for more service. Many firms don’t use the traditional partnership model. They act independently within the partnership and simply share overhead and cost. Contingency fee lawyers are typically working in an independent role within their firm as well. We need to continue to explore ways for lawyers to act independently, either by going out on their own or developing new models within the context of partnership which allow lawyers to act first and foremost on behalf of their clients. The current partnership structure and many hourly billing firms cause tremendous conflict for individual lawyers representing their clients. There must be a better way.