When I worked as an associate attorney at several big and small law firms, I usually represented companies. Sometimes, I represented people who had insurance coverage, but this is a little different than representing individuals directly. However, as a self-employed attorney, I have a pretty even mix of clients who are individuals and clients that are companies. Representing companies is very different than representing individuals, and lawyers should keep such differences in mind in order to provide the best service to clients.
Individuals are far more likely to be sensitive to legal costs than companies. When a company has a legal issue, individuals are far less likely to feel the impact to their bottom line. This is because companies typically have larger budgets that can absorb the cost of legal work. Moreover, the shareholders of a company rather than people who work at the company day to day are likely to feel the financial impact of legal matters. Of course, smaller companies might be just as sensitive to legal fees as individuals since there is a closer connection to the cost of legal work and how much money people will earn from the business. However, many larger companies think of legal fees as a business expense that can be absorbed.
Nevertheless, individuals typically need to pay for legal expenses out of their own pocket. As a result, any money that they spend on legal work is money that they cannot spend on other expenses. Accordingly, lawyers need to be much more open and honest with individuals about the cost of legal work so that there are no surprises about how much a given project costs. Moreover, lawyers might want to establish budgets or other means of managing costs so that individual clients feel that a lawyer is sensitive to the cost of legal work.
Although companies naturally do not like to be sued, they are far less likely to take legal matters personally than individuals. This is because larger companies with legal departments have trained lawyers on staff who have experience in the legal matters that companies face and view the legal work as part of their jobs rather than a personal attack on them. Moreover, companies are far more likely to advocate for a resolution of a legal matter amicably since legal fees are merely a business expense that should be reduced like all other kinds of legal expenses. Some smaller companies might take litigation personally, especially if they are controlled by one or a few individuals, but for the most part, lawyers have a lower likelihood of needing to contend with emotions as well as legal work when dealing with companies.
However, individuals can take legal matters personally. This is largely dependent on the personality of the client. Some clients are pretty stoic and do not let emotions influence their decisions about legal work too much. However, other clients can let emotions be the primary driver of their decisions when it comes to legal projects. Lawyers can best represent such clients by trying to break through the emotions that a client is facing and attempt to steer the client toward reasonable outcomes notwithstanding the emotions of a matter.
As might be expected, companies typically have much more legal experience than individuals. This is usually because businesses have been sued before or have faced legal issues for which they needed to hire counsel. As a result, they may be more knowledgeable about the legal process, legal terminology, and other aspects of a legal matter. In addition, larger companies might have dedicated legal departments that handle their legal work. The professionals who work for such departments are usually trained lawyers who understand the intricacies of the legal issues they face in a given representation.
However, individuals are far less likely to have experience with legal issues. As such, legal problems can be scary for such people, and they might need more attention than companies when it comes to navigating certain issues. In addition, individuals are less likely to have the background needed to easily digest information related to a legal representation. Accordingly, attorneys should expect that they will have to spend more time explaining legal options, legal, terminology, and other aspects of the representation so that an individual client can make an informed decision during a representation.
All told, many law firms represent all kinds of clients from bigger businesses to individuals. Depending on the circumstances, lawyers may need to act differently depending on the type of client they represent.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at [email protected].