I recently read a fantastic article penned by a wonderful sportswriter from Boston. The article contained a quote that I thought should be read by clients everywhere as they attempt to choose from the overwhelming amount of options available to answer their legal questions. The quote comes from the famous author Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book: “David and Goliath.”
“There is a set of advantages that have to do with material resources, and there is a set that have to do with the absence of material resources and the reason underdogs win as often as they do is that the latter are sometimes every bit the equal of the former. For some reason, this is a very difficult lesson for us to learn. We have I think a very rigid and limited definition of what an advantage is. We think of things as helpful that actually aren’t, and think of other things as unhelpful that are.” —Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath
The quote itself hits close to home for small law firms who would have the audacity to represent lower to middle class clientele against any number of behemoth opponents. Even recently I had a client ask how I could be sure that their former landlord wouldn’t end up hiring a law firm that was, as they put it “bigger and better” than I was. I laughed to myself and responded that I was in the business of giant slaying and that they needn’t worry about the size or expense of opposing counsel.
Never mind that my client failed to grasp that the specific legal theory we were pursuing our case under was, to put it bluntly, written so overwhelmingly in favor of a tenant that size nor material advantage could have saved her poor landlord from the fate that was coming to him. I completely understood why my client said that and where she was coming from.
Assumptions are abound in the public realm when dealing with any number of subject matters. To most folks, they think lawyers who are more expensive and have nicer offices will win 98% of the time. If you asked a lawyer what the key to winning was, outside of maybe two corporate giants slugging it out (a la Apple versus Samsung), they would tell you that the facts would control the winner the majority of the time. It’s a famous line lawyers say to each other and to themselves, “sometimes you have the facts and sometimes you don’t.”
For anyone out there trying to find the perfect legal counsel, my advice would be to understand a couple of things. Number one, size isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. There are so many examples of an “underdog” coming out on top that you would think that in this day and age we would have moved past the tired and well-worn assumption that money can purchase victory. Today, modern small firms have the capabilities through the intelligent use of technology and well nurtured legal networks, to provide similar if not identical quality of counsel for much more reasonable costs than do mid-sized to large firms. The work of an attorney has evolved from being tied to the courtroom into a much more expanded role helping to council families and small businesses with major life decisions and disputes. Lawyers work today in advisory roles much more so than they did at any time previously in our profession. That advice and counsel doesn’t need to cost you an arm and a leg to just ask a couple questions.
Number two, find a connection. When you speak with an attorney when you’re trying to find counsel, the most important piece in assessing their ability is usually not their costs, but rather the connection they can establish with you. You should be able to trust what they say and trust how they say it. In my opinion, it’s never a good idea to bury facts as you converse with attorneys. You should trust your attorney as if they were your partner. Trust them to take care of you and keep you informed. Trust them tell you both the strengths and weaknesses of your case. If a conversation with your lawyer doesn’t end up providing you with a holistic view of the issues you’ve presented, how can you trust them to move forward?
Finally, throw out the old paradigm of David versus Goliath. While you need to be able to proceed intelligently and forcefully as an attorney, the days of requiring vast material resources to do so is over. Use your own judgment when choosing someone to be your partner to handle the legal issues in your life. Don’t rely on ancient fairytales to guide your decision.