When I was younger, I assumed that if you hired a lawyer, you were also hiring everyone that they worked with. Why else would a group of people share an office together and represent themselves as one big firm if it wasn’t the case?

What I’ve learned is that a lot of times, law firms are essentially a group of individuals under one banner, but not really a partnership. It’s similar I’ve learned to a lot of doctor groups in that they essentially “eat what they kill.” In other words, it’s not a collaboration, but instead they make money off the cases that they work on. So they end up with a motivation to work on certain cases over others because their hard work only pays off if they collect a lot of money.

I’ve know this about doctors for a while, but only recently learned this is also true for lawyers. It came to my attention when a top Chicago personal injury attorney left his firm for another firm of great reputation. I wondered why he would make what is at best a lateral move and that’s when I discovered that he wouldn’t really be working for the new firm as much as he would be trying to make more money off of the cases that he generates.

It’s financially sensible for the attorneys and doctors, but not so great for the clients and patients. For doctors, while the ones I know still talk about cases with their “partners” when asked, they also don’t worry about anything other than their own patient list. The same holds true for lawyers, but I think it’s worse in those cases. Let me explain.

Lawyers get paid a salary and also a percentage on the cases they bring in and the cases that they work on. If you are a personal injury lawyer and have a case that you think is worth $3 million, that means the lawyer fees would be worth $1 million. If you bring in more lawyers to work on the case, it’s better for the case and better for the client. But to do that, you have to give up a good chunk of your fee. In other words, by doing what is best for the client you might cost yourself $100,000.00 or more.

I’m sure in some of these fake partnerships there are lawyers who do the right thing every time. I’m also sure that there are many who don’t. There are a lot of stories around town of law partners who hate each other, but stay together because their firm name has brand value which they don’t want to lose. Before you hire a firm, especially if you have a major injury case or something complex that will require multiple lawyers like a truck accident, verify who will be working on your case and if the firm is really a firm.