When the four founding members of Taylor English Duma set out to establish their law firm in Atlanta in 2005, they took a unique approach: What would a law firm look like if it were designed by clients?
Such a firm would have low overhead, they reasoned, and would comprise experienced, reliable attorneys — though not necessarily big-name rainmakers or legal superstars. The firm would charge significantly less than the $500 or more hourly rate common at many of Atlanta’s top firms. It would emphasize efficiency and control by embracing alternative fee arrangements and maintaining a relatively small number of associates. And its lawyers would forgo the obsession with profits-per-partner and instead focus on how to bring value to clients.
"One thing that has always driven me nuts about the legal market is that its entire premise is based on paying people by the effort, not for their result," said founding attorney Marc Taylor, who embraces alternative fee arrangements, particularly fee caps coupled with success bonuses.
Taylor English’s original concept has proved a hit with clients and attorneys alike. In eight years, it has grown to a 125-attorney outfit serving Fortune 100 companies including Delta Air Lines Inc. and The Home Depot Inc. Taylor English doesn’t handle bet-the-company matters for those major companies, but has secured a spot handling their more routine legal work as well as a broader spectrum of matters for area midsized and Fortune 1,000 companies, including the Waffle House Inc. restaurant chain.
"They’re unique in their model and in their skill set," said general counsel Jon Waller, who has hired the firm to handle everything from employment matters to real estate deals. "They’ve created what I’d call a modern practice. They operate very efficiently on the expense side and they’re able to offer services at rates about 50 percent less than other firms for the same caliber of attorney."
The firm’s relatively low 30 percent fixed costs are possible in part because of its location outside Atlanta’s Interstate 285 perimeter, its low staff-to-attorney ratio, and its practice of not offering any attorney guaranteed compensation. "We could be at 250 lawyers and $120 million in revenue in pretty short order," Taylor said. "I think the market is there, externally. I think clients want to do this and I think there is a wealth of attorneys in Atlanta looking for ways to practice law that doesn’t focus exclusively on driving profits per partner."