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They’re also becoming more savvy and saying, “Be creative in your rate structure,” whether that’s by doing part billable rate, part result rate, part contingency rate, or the like.
VON MAACK: A lot of it has to do with the nature of the dispute. For some work, clients might view the lawyers as being fungible—one white shoe firm is equally as good as another. But when you get down to the company cases, then all of a sudden there becomes a premium and then no longer will any lawyer do amongst a certain tier. And that’s when, if you can convince the client of your worth, you don’t have to compete as much.
HULSE: I suspect Paul, for example, has the same experience I do, which is when you run into a really complex hotel deal or something that just not everybody can do, our clients from New York and Las Vegas and California don’t even balk at the rate. They want to make sure it’s done and done right, and they’re willing to pay whatever’s necessary.
CATAXINOS: I find myself more and more talking to less savvy clients that have never dealt with IP before. They’re always focused on the billable rate. I keep telling them that’s the wrong question. Not in the sense that we want to take advantage of it, but what they should be asking is, “What is this going to cost; give me an estimate,” as opposed to the billable hour, which is insignificant when you can run up however many hours you want.
DURHAM: There’s certainly three factors a client should look at: the rate, which most clients tend to focus in on; the amount of time it’s going to take, because rate times time is going to be the amount of the bill; and then third, probably most importantly, is the quality. If you get a $100-an-hour attorney and the work isn’t good, it’s just not worth it.
Are you seeing any emerging areas of business? Do your firms have a section now that wasn’t in existence five or 10 years ago?
GAYLORD: We’ve expanded consumer finance. The downturn in the market has created a huge practice group called consumer finance, where we’re handling for major financial institutions—Bank of America and others—all of the problems that have arisen as a result of the foreclosure industry and consumer finance issues. That includes foreclosures but also goes across the board to credit cards, banking, overdraft fees.
CLINGER: In the alternative dispute resolution area, we’ve seen an increase in former litigators leaving firms and going into alternative dispute resolution. We’ve also seen a number of judges leaving the bench and now creating mediation practices.
ADAMS: Two areas have been major areas of development for us. The first has been criminal defense, white-collar crime, compliance, financial institutions, environmental work. We have four lawyers who are essentially working full time in that area.
Another one that’s somewhat related is securities work. With the downturn in the market, we have a couple lawyers who have been just buried. There are a lot of issues about financial institutions and losses that people incurred.
The law schools are getting hit nationally on overstating their rates of employment. Is that a problem in Utah?
CLYDE: Our law schools here do a very good job of placing people. That’s been my observation both with the U and BYU. And I don’t think they do overstate their rankings. Law students today are coming out of school far better trained than they were 30 some-odd years ago. They have lot more clinical and hands-on experience coming out of school—they can hit the ground running a lot faster than they ever did.
LARSON: I completely agree with you. We’re the beneficiaries of some very bright and intelligent law students that are coming out of the schools. We try to continue to hire from Utah and BYU, although we are getting resumes from top-tier students from top-tier schools all over the country.
That, to me, is a reflection of the difficulty of the economy. There are people out there willing to do internships, willing to just volunteer their time. They’re willing to do almost anything just to get into the workforce in the law. We try to find opportunities for them.
What would you tell your son or daughter who asked you, “Should I go to law school?”
LEITHEAD: I would still say yes, because you can use a law degree in so many different ways. The question becomes expectation in terms of coming out of law school. Are you really going to walk into that big law firm job? That’s much harder to do, but certainly a legal education can be used in so many different areas. I wouldn’t discourage it, but I probably would say, “You need to change your expectations coming out.”