As explained in a prior post, about 20% of all attorneys in Maryland are sole practitioners and about one-third of all attorneys work at law firms with 10 or less attorneys. http://stewartsutton.com/about-20-of-maryland-attorneys-are-solo-practitioners. While complex matters may require the resources of a large law firm, most legal matters can be handled by an experienced sole practitioner.
When it is necessary to retain a large law firm to handle a complex or time-consuming matter, it is important to take into consideration the disadvantage and inefficiencies of how a large law firm operates. At large law firms, the senior attorneys supervise junior attorneys; the junior attorneys supervise paralegals; and the paralegals supervise secretaries. The structure of large law firms dictate that the client will be charged for many intra-office meetings. These meeting are necessary for the partners and senior attorneys to supervise and train junior attorneys and paralegals. In fact, supervisory attorneys have an ethical duty to make sure junior attorneys perform legal services in a diligent and competent manner. See Maryland Rules 19-305.1 (Responsibilities of Partners, Managers, and Supervisory Attorneys).
At large law firms in Montgomery County, first year associates are paid between $75,000 and $90,000 per year, and senior associates earn about $150,000. In effect, the client is paying for the junior attorneys’ on-the-job training. Based upon my review of legal invoices of law firms in Maryland, a large firm may be charging as much as 40% more than what a single efficient sole practitioner would have charged for the same work.