The big law firms in Atlanta are raising the starting salary for new associates straight out of law school to $115,000. I have a lot of friends in those firms, and certainly enjoy the view from their regal offices when I visit. However, I have yet to see a first year associate who is worth $115,000.
Some politicians and news media folks like to blame plaintiff’s personal injury lawyers for all the ills of a “litigious society.” However, you haven’t seen litigation til you’ve seen business litigation, with big firms assigning platoons of senior partners, junior partners, senior associates, junior associates, paralegals and support staff, all billing by the hour. The big firms tend to engage in a vicious cycle of overpaying bright young lawyers, and then needing to generate enough billable hours to carry exorbitant overhead expenses (salaries, lavish offices, etc.), and still pay the partners very well. Generally their incentives are to increase complexity and expense rather than to get to the bottom line quickly and efficiently.
Those of us representing individuals and families on a contingent fee basis get paid only in proportion to the results we obtain for our clients, and only when the case is concluded. We control our overhead, staff lean, expand on an ad hoc basis when necessary, and work hard. It is a model of economic efficiency, as our focus is necessarily on getting optimal results for our clients as quickly and efficiently as possible. While I was never in one of the giant law firms, I did spend a decade in a defense litigation firm where we all had hourly billing quotas. Often one looked for things to do on a file more to meet a billing quota than to advance the client’s interest.
Occasionally corporations are willing to “think outside the box” and hire a small law firm to handle business litigation on a contingent or blended fee basis. Certainly there may be concerns about a small firm’s capacity to handle some very large, complex cases that may legitimately require a higher level of staffing. And I recognize that the big firms generally have bright people doing high quality work. On the other hand, I have seen cases in which large firms assign platoons of lawyers to matters which a sole practitioner with a focus on the bottom line could handle at least as well.
Frankly, I don’t spend a lot of time marketing to corporate legal departments because I realize that no one in a large corporation ever got fired for hiring a blue chip law firm to represent the company, but one could fear criticism in a corporate culture for hiring a small plaintiffs’ firm for corporate litigation. It takes a degree of courage to make such a choice, even if it could help control legal expense and tie fees to performance.

The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a “SuperLawyer” in Atlanta Magazine and one of the “Legal Elite” in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks).