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The Importance of Synergy

You might have seen it several times out there in the legal world: a law firm website telling you that attorneys who only work in one practice area are the best, and therefore the only kind of attorney you should hire. Personally, I don't buy it. I think practicing only one kind of law is problematic for clients. Let me give you an example:

Suppose a client comes into my office for a divorce. I handle their divorce, no problem, but now there are other issues. That same client is having a hard time financially because their household income just got cut in half. They think they need a bankruptcy... and I tell them "well, you need to go somewhere else for that." They also want to update their estate plan... and I again tell them "well, you need to go somewhere else for that." Now this client is going to have to deal with 3 attorneys instead of 1. Finding an attorney is hard enough (finding an attorney you like and can afford is even harder), and this person needs to find 2 more, maybe more depending on the other issues they are going through. Beyond that, what if the divorce could have worked out better for the client if they had considered the potential need for bankruptcy and made that part of their divorce plan? Too bad - that is a missed opportunity because the divorce lawyer didn't know about bankruptcy and therefore did not bring it up.

Does that seem like something that works out well for a client? I don't think so. Why shouldn't a client be able to handle most of their issues through the same law firm? I think it benefits a client to hire a law firm with practice areas that go well together. Consider Immigration law - it goes well with Criminal law (since criminal law violations will have a significant impact on immigration status) and might also go well with Estate Planning (how do you plan for non-citizen spouses?). If you were a client, would you want to hire an Immigration firm that only handled Immigration, or would you feel more comfortable knowing the firm handled other (related) areas of law? I believe a firm that embraces multiple related practice areas - or even just the slivers of those practice areas that are related - could deliver much better service to a client than a firm that only practices one type of law. I think the ability to deliver more services is attractive to clients, and I think we will see more clients choosing law firms that can help them out with a multitude of related legal issues.

Some practice areas are not related, and I am certainly not suggesting that firms should just pick a number of random practice areas in an effort to service their clients. I am also not addressing hyper-specialized firms (for example: a firm that only handles child support appeals to the supreme court and nothing else) because those firms often fill an important niche by tackling subject matter that might have special or unique rules. What I am suggesting is that carefully selecting practice areas with synergy benefits clients. I tried to do that with this law firm; it was a happy coincidence that the three Ds are also areas that have a huge demand for affordable attorneys (and that demand is not being met, resulting in a lot of people choosing to represent themselves). I hope, as time goes on, that more attorneys will consider broadening their firm's practice base for the reasons I mentioned above.

David Mercer