Choosing your immigration lawyer: Retail or Wholesale?
By Author: Admin | November 16, 2009
Perhaps you reviewed Canada’s official immigration website and became baffled (given its size, this is a common reaction). Let’s say that as a result you determined that you need an immigration lawyer. The selection of a lawyer consists of many factors that I won’t discuss in detail (such as experience, courtesy, diligence, respect etc.). One factor I want to focus on in this entry is whether to pick an immigration law firm with many lawyers or one lawyer.
When you pick a one-lawyer law firm, you tend to pick a lawyer who does all the legal work, along with a support staff who does the clerical tasks (such as asking you for documents, giving you documents, typing out forms and simple correspondence). The sole practitioner is expected to supervise his clerical staff in these tasks. Legal questions you may have are answered by the lawyer.
When you select a law firm with more than one lawyer (e.g. where the law firm says in fine print “Lawyers in Association”, for example), there tends to be one or two ‘star lawyers’ (the ones you see in the advertising), and a bunch of lawyers whose names are in really, really, tiny letters in the letterhead. The promotional material for these ‘star lawyer’s talks about the accomplishments of the law firm, but does not always specify which lawyer has achieved which accomplishment. The promotional material does not reveal if the accomplishment achieved by the law firm was done by a lawyer who has long since left the firm.
For these law firms containing more than one lawyer, you may get the ‘star lawyer’ throughout the life of your case. If you don’t get the ‘star lawyer’, your case may be passed back and forth to different lawyers because the lawyer you saw in the advertisement is not available. This may or may not be a good thing. Suppose you hired the ‘star lawyer’ based on her success in a case that resembles your own case. You may be disappointed to find out that your case has been given to a lawyer not known to handle the type of case such as yours.
A different way to express this difference in law firms is the ‘retail’ or ‘wholesale’ lawyer. The retail lawyer (often a sole practitioner) sells his legal services directly to the public through advertising that highlights that individual lawyer. A wholesale lawyer is more on the backend of a law office and is a lawyer that comes under the advertising umbrella of a different lawyer (often that of the ‘star lawyer’ who is more prominently displayed in that law firm’s advertising). It is often the ‘star lawyer’ that gets you in the door, but it isn’t always the ‘star lawyer’ that handles your case.
The jury is out on which model is better for both the lawyers and would-be clients. The ‘wholesale’ lawyer can get the advantage of lesser advertising costs (since they presumably are shared with the ‘star lawyer’. This means that they don’t have to get as many immigration cases to support their practice. This makes their life easier.
However, they often get less money than the ‘star lawyer’ because they often must engage in a fee sharing arrangement with the ‘star lawyer’ – who pays for a share of the advertising. This may require the wholesale lawyer to take on more work to compensate for the sharing of her fee with the ‘star lawyer’.
On the other hand the ‘retail’ lawyer is putting his name and reputation out in the public and takes all the corresponding credit and blame. The ‘retail’ lawyer must be very careful in his dealings with his clients and the courts since the blame cannot be ‘spread around’ to other lawyers. The ‘retail’ lawyer must make all of the decisions about promotion and takes all of the financial risk and profit.
As far as what is good for clients, the ‘retail’ lawyer is the only person the client would turn to for a legal question. This may be easier for the client, especially if the ‘retail’ lawyer has established a good rapport with the client. By contrast, a ‘wholesale’ lawyer may be one of many lawyers who work on a client’s case. This may cause confusion and delay when a client is trying to communicate with a law firm that adopts the ‘wholesale’ lawyer model. Miscommunication between lawyers and clients can seriously damage the relationship between the lawyer and client and may also damage a client’s case.
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