When I created this law firm in January 1997, I asked a few clients and friends to visualize in their minds' eye the ideal law firm for the construction industry, and to tell me what they saw. They responded with comments in three areas: control of costs; personal service; trust and professionalism.
Control of Costs. My clients said that they did not mind paying an hourly rate that was consistent with the market, but they wanted me to strive to be cost-effective. Legal work does not differ in this respect from any other service that a business might employ: if the cost is too high, the business will get along without it. That is indeed what a large portion of the construction industry does: many companies do not consult a lawyer regularly as to contract terms and claims because they fear the cost of doing so. This is regrettable, because these companies need frequent legal counseling and support. My experience has been that the cost of legal services can increase unnecessarily due to excessive overhead on the part of the law firm. My clients told me that, although they wanted me to remain in downtown Washington, D.C., they were not impressed by a large, mahogany conference table and a big window: they know exactly how much these items cost per foot, and they know who ultimately pays for them: themselves. Moreover the gorgeous conference room did not excite them because, my clients said, they had no intention of coming to my office to see it. My clients said they wanted me to meet them at their own offices and job trailers. So the fancy law office would be a large item of overhead that would contribute nothing to my usefulness as a lawyer.
Secondly the cost of legal services can increase unnecessarily due to a failure of care and concern on the part of the lawyer. The cost of handling of a dispute, especially in litigation, can be impossible to predict because it depends so heavily upon the behavior of a hostile opponent. But that cost can be minimized by diligence and daily attention to cost-effectiveness. The total cost of most matters is driven less by the hourly rate than by the number of hours spent. Photocopying and other non-legal services that become reimbursable expenses must be obtained at the least available cost, and not marked up by the lawyer. The lawyer must ask himself at every stage: what is the most cost-effective way of accomplishing this task? If this were my own money at stake, how would I spend it?
Fear of excessive cost has caused many companies in the construction industry to obtain less legal guidance and support than they need. They take unnecessary risks by accepting lopsided contract documents, and they fail to collect full compensation for their work performed because they don't know how best to prepare, to present and to pursue a claim. We must find a way to provide companies in the construction industry with the frequent counseling and representation that they need at a cost that they can afford.
Personal Service. My clients told me that they wanted me to attend to their needs personally. They did not want to be transferred to a junior lawyer whom they did not know. While appropriate aspects of the work could be performed most cost-effectively by a junior person, they wanted my own, continuous attention and direct oversight of any work performed by others. And largely they wanted me to perform their work myself; that's why they hired me.
Trust and Professionalism. There remains a distinction between the normal business and what tradition has referred to as "the professions." The professions traditionally consist of medicine, dentistry, accounting, engineering, architecture, teaching, law and other callings. What distinguishes these lines of work from the normal business is a public trust: the professional has an obligation to treat his client's interests as paramount and ahead of his own interests. When you settle into your dentist's chair for an examination, you should not need to wonder whether his advice about your teeth is driven by the dentist's own financial motives. You should not have to wonder whether your physician recommends a course of treatment that exceeds what you really need. The traditional professional makes his decisions and offers his guidance based upon your genuine needs, period. He gets paid for his services, but the desire to maximize his fee does not affect his advice. On the contrary, the professional must strive to deliver excellent service at the least, reasonable cost that is consistent with excellence.
My clients told (and tell) me that this old-fashioned notion of professionalism still holds true: they consider it essential and indispensable to our relationship. This law firm strives to meet that standard.
Christopher L. Grant