This article has been written by Arkadyuti Sarkar, a student currently pursuing his B.A. LL.B from Shyambazar Law College under the University of Calcutta.
Many of the law aspirants might have idolized Harvey Specter from Suits or Bobby Donnell from the Practice, and dreamed about becoming an associate or a partner at a popular law firm. However, for an aspirant working at a law firm, there might be variation in the experiences they earn from the T.V series or films as to what they experience in actuality. Also, working at a law firm differs in terms of experiences accrued from working under a litigator or for a company. So let us now learn in detail about various law firms, what they are, what they do and many other relevant facts.
About Law firms
A law firm is a business entity, formed by an association of lawyers who are engaged in legal practice. In general, the members of a law firm share a variety of clients, and the profits are thereby accrued by providing services to those clients.
The obvious question that might be arriving by now in the mind of the reader is why would the lawyers come together for working in a group, when they can work independently as a litigator or solely for a company ? Well the lawyers do this purporting to provide more and specialized services to the clients, while working under the same roof. Also, by coming together, the lawyers are able to share various resources, such as- rents, staff, furniture, technology, internet, library, and all other benefits.
Conventionally, the law firms were based on partnership. However, with changing times, they are organized in different ways, dependent upon the jurisdiction of their operations.
Law firms provide a variety of specialized legal services to individuals, or associations, or companies. The primary service of a law firm is being an advisory to the clients about their legal rights and liabilities, and representing them in matters related to civil, criminal, business transactions, intellectual properties, real estate, taxation and all others in which their assistance is sought.
Based on their arrangements, law firms can be of the following types:
This law firm consists of only one lawyer who is responsible for all profits, loss, and liabilities arising out of such firm.
In this type of law firm, all the lawyers who are members in the firm jointly share the profits, losses, and liabilities accrued therein.
This type of law firm operates in a manner similar to a business corporation and issues stocks to the lawyers or advocates.
Limited Liability Company
Here the advocate-owners are regarded as members but are not directly liable to third party creditors of the law firm.
Limited Liability Partnership
In this form of law firm there exists a partnership among the advocate-owners with each other. However, there is neither any liability of a lawyer member towards the creditor of the law firm nor any responsibility for any negligence caused on part of another member. The LLP is taxed as a partnership firm while being a beneficiary of the liability protection of a corporation.
Now we shall look into the working structure of a typical law firm, consisting of the following persons:
They are the joint owners and business directors of the legal operation.
They are the employees in a law firm, looking forward to becoming partners. Generally, junior advocates who are new to the legal domain start their career as associates at a law firm. Depending upon the nature of the firm, they may be categorized into junior associates & senior associates.
They are usually the law students from various law schools who come for acquiring relevant practical knowledge and skills necessary for pursuing a career in their area of interest. Sometimes, even fresh law graduates who are yet to obtain the enrollment go for interning at the law firms. Simply put, these interns are the ones who may although have theoretical or bookish knowledge but in need of developing the imperative and requisite practical skills. They look forward to obtaining a PPO (pre-placement offer) and thereby becoming an associate at a law firm of their choice.
Works assigned to every member:
- The Partners being joint owners hold ownership interest in the firm. Also, being business directors in designation they supervise various organizational and other activities of the firm.
- The Associates usually deal with the clients of the firm and deal with the cases coming to the firm. In terms of experience the Senior Associates look into the more complex matters, while the junior associates introspect matters involving lesser complexity and expertise.
- The interns are assigned with various assistantial works like checking case lists, drafting assistance, preparing drafts, research and analytical tasks, etc. Sometimes they may have to perform menial tasks like obtaining a photocopy, or a print out.
Service Provided by Law Firms
Depending upon the nature of a law firm, it may either provide legal service in a specific legal domain or as in case of big law firms it may render various forms of services in different legal areas.
Here we shall look into some of the major areas, in which a typical and multipurpose law firm usually renders its services:
It is a parcel of public law dealing with the governing activities of the administrative agencies of the Government, such as- rule making, adjudication, or enforcing a specific regulatory agenda. Administrative law pivotally deals with the decisioning of administrative units of the Government as tribunals, boards and commissions which are branches of a national regulatory scheme in areas such as police law, manufacturing, international trade, immigration, taxation, etc.
This involves settlements outside the courtrooms on Civil and Commercial matters. The disputing parties agree and present a matter before a single arbitrator who then decides upon the matter which the parties have already agreed to comply with. It is increasingly common in international disputes in a pre-agreed jurisdiction instead of turning to litigation.
This area involves matters related to air travel and international law. It also involves maritime law but the International Civil Aviation Organization largely regulates the commercial aspects of air travel. Space law is an emerging field which is predominantly based on aviation law.
Banking & Financial law
This is a diverse legal area which involves the regulation of financial activities and products, and primarily centered on loan transactions. A financial lawyer is involved in works ranging from advising on simple bank loans being granted to companies, to working on highly structured financial agreements across various jurisdictions. This area requires a practitioner to be highly commercially minded and capable of considering the business as well as legal consequences of every business deal.
This area involves promotion and maintenance of market competition by regulation of counter-competitive practices by the corporate bodies. Implementation of the competition laws is done through various public and private enforcement agencies. Competition law is known in different names in different nations. In the USA, it is known as Antitrust law; in China and Russia, it is called anti-monopoly law; in the European Union, it is remarked as both the antitrust law and competition law; in Australia and UK in recent times it has come to be known as trade practices law.
This is also known as business law, or enterprise law or company law. It is an organ of the legal body dealing in rights, relations, and behavior of individuals, businesses, companies and organizations Corporate law encompasses the area related to formation, funding, governance and death of a corporation.
It is the area of law dealing with criminal acts and omissions. It specifies conducts which are threatening, harmful or otherwise perilous to an individual and his or her property, health, safety, and moral well being of people. Criminal law deals with violators, punishment, and rehabilitation.
This area deals with various forms of agreements, contracts, merger and acquisitions between different parties. The basis of civil and commercial laws have their plinths in the contractual law.
A Constitution is the paramount enactment of a sovereign State. All other laws, whether statutory or procedural, originate from the Constitution. Thus it is imperative to be well versed with constitutional knowledge and being able to solve various matters involving constitutional significance.
Various enactments have been made and various guidelines have been issued by the Government to preserve the ecological balance and extend environmental protection. Issues relating to violation of these rules and guidelines by individuals or the industries come within the ambit of the environmental law.
Intellectual Property Law
Ever heard of issues like copyright infringement, design theft, trademark violation, patent infringement and all? Well all these issues come under the scope of intellectual property laws. Intellectual properties being a creation of human intellect are abstract and incorporeal in nature but in no way are they denied the legal protection because of such abstractness.
Property and Real Estate laws
Sale, gift, mortgage, lease or other transferable modes of an immovable property lie within this domain. Also, rights relating to ownership, possession, tenancy, encumbrances, etc are guided by the property laws.
Thinking about investing in real estate or just wanting to rent a shop in a newly constructed shopping mall? This is where the property and real estate laws come into play.
Disputes are a common occurrence between the workmen and the management, in an industry. Again providing a safe working environment for the employees or the workmen is incumbent upon the employers in an industry. All these and other resembling issues are dealt in accordance with the provisions of the Labor laws.
Information and Technology law
With advancement in science and technology, the internet has been turned into another essential of the modern lifestyle.
Therefore, alongside the development of internet technology, various financial, banking, commercial, and transactional activities are now occurring in the virtual space. Also, criminal activities are occurring online, such as hacking, data theft, pornography, privacy violation, cyber terrorism, cyber fraud by the use of internet-capable communication devices. Information and Technology law endeavors towards dealing with all of these issues.
Government taxes its citizens either through indirect taxation or direct taxation. Apart from the citizens the Government also imposes taxes upon various commercial organizations, both national and foreign. Taxation is done by the Government so as to earn revenue from different sources which it spends towards paying its employees, funding areas like education, healthcare, defense, construction, science, telecom, etc.
Every matter related to tax filings, income tax returns, tax benefits, tax assessment, etc or disputes relating to tax evasion, tax planning, tax default, etc are guided by tax laws and come under the domain of taxation laws.
This list is inexhaustive; there are several other areas which are also practised by the law firms. This list contains the areas which are usually being taught in law schools. The reader shall get a brief idea about them through this article.
Special features of the firms
Many law aspirants or law students who are yet unsure or reluctant in pursuing a career in a law firm. They must firstly be acknowledged about the special characteristics of a successful law firm.
This is a pivotal foundation of a successful law firm. There is a healthy partner culture in a successful law firm, where:
- The partners share common vision and purpose.
- The partners possess respect towards one another.
- The partners deal fairly and honestly with each other.
- And lastly, there is involvement of the members in problem solving discussions for dealing with varying issues and difficulties.
The second rudimentary feature of a successful law firm is dependent upon the leadership. This leadership can be achieved by a sole person or a core member group, and not necessarily arrive from the formalized management structure of the firm.
This leadership behavior includes:
- Development and empowerment of people.
- Ability to influence others.
- Encouragement of team play.
- Introspecting multiple options.
- Taking calculated and intelligent risks.
- Feeling passionate towards work.
- Being a clear and strong visionary.
Leadership makes things happen and pushes a firm forward, facilitates new directions and helps in attaining new goals, and brings flexibility to cope with the dynamic competitive climate of the present day.
This is the third plinth of a successful law firm. Law firms which are successful, already contain a good governance system and well placed management structure for the purpose of effective management, which includes the following:
- Productive activities which include individuals and also the whole firm.
- Economic, qualitative, and quantitative soundness of the work.
- Formation of determinant policies which would display the character of the firm.
- Development of business and marketing.
- Systems for partner compensation and profit distribution.
Remuneration of the partners
This is the fourth plinth of a successful law firm. A well placed partnership remuneration system is what the successful law firms already have.
A well paid person is more passionate towards their work. Thus an employee with better payment feels more enthusiastic in performing better at his work.
This is the fifth plinth of successful law firms which is already well placed behind their success.
An effective business plan should include:
- Decision as to directing the law firm.
- Data collection and reviewing.
- Chalking out action plans.
- Implementation and follow-up mechanisms.
Successful law firms which deliver outstanding client service not only focus on the expectations of their clients but also on surpassing those expectations.
Delivering great client service is highly crucial in today’s market. While an increasing number of lawyers and law firms are competing for fewer clients with drop in the client loyalty. It is insufficient in the present day legal environment to simply be competent or an expert in the legal domain. A successful law firm is determined through a client’s work experience with that firm and not solely upon the quality of work done by such firm.
This is the seventh rudiment of a successful law firm.
Those days are a thing of the past when the advocates or lawyers were simply involved in legal practice. Presently they experience cut-throat competition, shrinking service demand and increasing supply of professional talent, availability of substitutes, and marketing of professional services. Therefore, marketing is vital for a successful firm to survive in the future.
Advantages of working in a Law Firm
Now being acknowledged about the special features of a successful law firm, let us introspect the advantages which a law firm associate has over an independent litigator and compare the working of law firms with the independent practice and litigator.
Working in a law firm means having a pay cheque signed on your name every month. So as long as you are an associate at a law firm you are guaranteed a certain monthly remuneration. On the contrary, as an independent litigator, there is no fixed earning. You earn depending on the number of clients you get. There might be times when you earn tenfold than a firm’s associate, again there might be situations when you do not have any earning.
As long as you are an associate at a law firm you have a job. Whereas, as an independent legal practitioner, you do not have any fixed job. Whether you get to work on a case is dependent upon how many clients are coming to you.
Diverse Client Base
In a law firm, there is an abundant and diverse client base. So even if a client decides on moving his case to somewhere else, it shall not affect the firm financially. Whereas, as a litigator where you have already have no of getting clients, any such decision on the client’s part is bound to affect you financially.
Working in a law firm means that there shall be an office of the firm for the associates, partners and other employees to work in. Expenditure for such an office shall go from the firm’s funding and not from your wallet. Contrarily, if you are a litigator, then although you can have your chamber but for that, you will have to spend your dime which can be strenuous most of the time, at least in your initial years.
Law firms often go for investing in comprehensive training and mentoring programs for their employees, especially the associates. Such training programs may include- detailed summer associates program, onboard training for new employees, in-house educational programs, continuing educational backing, etc.
On the opposite, working as a litigator you cannot avail this kind of training. You learn from your experiences which usually takes a long time.
Getting to work at a law firm as an associate or an intern means having an opportunity to work with accomplished, successful, and credentialed colleagues. Contrarily, as an independent practitioner having these opportunities are not guaranteed.
Most law firms work on the hierarchical order. The better you perform there, the better is your opportunity. You may join as a junior associate and depending on your performance you may become a partner where there are new experiences and responsibilities in waiting. Simply put, you experience growth throughout.
However, as a litigator, there is no such scope. The only matter concerned here is how many clients you get which in turn determines your earning.
Diversity in experiences
As a member of a law firm, you have to work with a diverse client base and thus deal in complex, diverse, and technical legal matters. Thus you have the scope of diverse experience in your professional life. Whereas, as a litigator, such experiences are scanty to nil.
Thus, from the aforesaid assertions, it can be ascertained that working with a law firm has manifold advantages and scopes for a young law graduate, fresh out of the law school. However, aside from the advantages, we must be aware of the disadvantages of working at a law firm.
- Many law firms are personality driven organizations rather than being institutionally run. This means a higher than normal dose of ego and politics in the workplace.
- Work timings can be insane in case of a law firm. There can be jovial phases when you arrive at the office at 10 am and leave at 7:30 pm. Again there are horrendous ones when you may have to work until late 1 am of the night. This in turn tells upon your health and destabilizes your work-life balance.
- Usually a law firm job is by nature a desk-job throughout which means sitting before a computer for extensive hours, thereby affecting your body.
- Even senior employees who fail to manage teams or bring in clients are fired. So although you have a job security that does not mean it is permanent.
Thus after comparing all the features, pros, and cons of working in law firms the readers are now expected to make a clear decision. However, one suggestion on the end note- everything in life comes with both pros and cons. So before you make a decision, ascertain your goals, your skills, etc. then decide and attempt to remain dedicated to it.
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