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Twenty-five thousand Texas lawyers can’t be wrong. According to the State Bar of Texas’ most recent figures, over half of Texas lawyers engaged in private practice work for themselves or work in firms of fewer than five attorneys. There is one solid reason that attorneys in private practice seem to prefer smaller firms: flexibility. Law is a constantly evolving field. The never-ending stream of decisions, changes in substantive law and changes in procedure mean that success is literally a moving target. In representing clients, the ability to embrace and adapt to changes is paramount, and the ability to do this is maximized in small firms. For instance, small firms typically have fewer lawyers in control of the firm. Instead of a management committee or overlapping layers of supervising attorneys, lawyers practicing in small firms have one or two attorneys to whom they report. Most lawyers in small firms effectively operate as their own bosses and need no permission to vary their practice to meet the newest conditions. Small firms are much quicker to make decisions and implement changes. Small firms also have an edge in adopting and utilizing technology. With the advent of the laptop age, technology has irrevocably decentralized the control of information. Each individual lawyer is almost a self-contained trial team. For example, depositions routinely are recorded onto digital tapes and then edited for use at hearing or trial. Instead of the editing being done by the same group of people who recorded the deposition, new technology allows them to be edited by any number of computer-savvy operators. What used to take an entire truckload of equipment to record, edit and play back, can now be done with a camera, a computer and a projector. Large firms may have the advantage in terms of economies of scale and buying equipment at reasonable prices, but small firms have a huge advantage in being able to utilize the latest technology. In fact, owning the equipment is no advantage at all: A 2- or 3-year-old piece of computerized equipment is almost certainly inferior to (and was probably more expensive than) its up-to-date counterpart. Similar technologies are available for presentation of art/illustrations and document handling. In all instances, it is cheaper, faster and better for the trial lawyer to be in control of the technology. This can be accomplished only by having the trial lawyer call the shots on the technology — not some centralized purchasing department. Personnel decisions also are much easier in small firms. The small firms I am familiar with have a ratio of approximately 2-to-1. That is, two support personnel for each attorney. When one of those folks needs to be replaced, there is no bureaucratic impediment to quickly and efficiently fill the void. When additional people are needed, they are hired for whatever length of time is appropriate. Instead of a moribund vetting process, the focus is on meeting with the actual people with whom the new hire will work. The focus is on personality and the ability to work with a small group of co-workers. Either those traits exist and can be maximized, or those traits do not exist and another worker is needed. Regardless, the lawyers who make the decision to hire an employee are usually the ones who will work most closely with that employee. They have an idea of the traits and characteristics that will work best for their team. Small firms recognize and value the personal relationships that are at the heart of the law practice. For instance, in a referral-based practice, it is imperative that attorneys foster and promote the personal relationships that keep one another at the top of the list. Instead of lengthy conflicts checks and requests that some central figure or committee approve a working arrangement, the individual attorney at a small firm typically is empowered to cut an agreement with the referring attorney, which benefits the client and recognizes the value of an ongoing relationship with the referring attorney. Nearly every week I hear a large-firm lawyer express a desire to practice in a smaller firm. Most of these attorneys are looking for help in making the jump (or at least validation of their decision to go), and the overwhelming sentiment is a desire by the lawyer to be in control of his or her own cases (and destiny). Migrations to larger firms are almost unheard of. Twenty-five thousand Texas lawyers aren’t wrong. Small firms are the future. George “Tex” Quesada is a principal at Sommerman, Moore & Quesada, a five-lawyer firm in Dallas. He has served as a briefing attorney for the Texas Supreme Court and has been a trial lawyer for the past 15 years.

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