When I was a college and law student, my brother owned a burger restaurant in Florida. In the kitchen, I would routinely hear my brother shout “we don’t serve garbage!” to the chefs and food runners to make sure that staff at the restaurant ensured that only quality food was given to customers. When I first worked at a law firm, a partner with whom I was close reiterated this principle and said that lawyers should strive to put their best work product out into the world. People reading the work product might not know if it was generated in a short time or under other circumstances that could impact its quality and might then judge the lawyer if the work was not up to par. However, some clients do favor speed over quality in certain instances, and lawyers need to keep this in mind more often than they do.
One of the most important times when speed over quality matters is when a client has a deadline. Sometimes, clients need to close a deal by a certain time or risk other stakeholders to the deal wanting to walk away. Clients might face serious consequences if lawyers do not satisfy such deadlines as those associated with filing taxes and similar tasks. In such circumstances, it usually pays for lawyers to do the work by the deadline even though the work is not perfect. Clients might appreciate it more if deadlines are kept than if the work product is perfect and might judge their lawyers harshly if they are unable to satisfy a deadline.
In other instances, clients establish budgets with their lawyers to prevent lawyers from charging too much money for a certain project. In such circumstances, clients might expect that their lawyers will work quickly as they can bill only a certain number of hours if they’re to fit the work into the budget set by the client. If a lawyer takes more time to complete the work, and, as a result, the budget is not followed, serious consequences can ensue.
Lawyers need to have frank conversations with clients about how much time a project might reasonably be expected to take, and lawyers should devote sufficient effort to a project to follow ethical guidelines and the like. In other circumstances, a flat fee or an alternative-fee arrangement might work best to ensure that the interests of the client and lawyer align. In any case, attorneys would be best advised to do work in a timely fashion if the client established a budget, to ensure that clients are not dissatisfied.
Sometimes, clients just prefer speed since this distinguishes lawyers in the marketplace for legal services. Most clients, except for sophisticated individuals and businesses, will probably not review with a fine-tooth comb the work produced by a lawyer because many clients do not have the necessary background to comprehensively evaluate a lawyer’s efforts.
However, a lawyer who can produce content quickly can stand out among legal practitioners. Many lawyers have a reputation for taking a long time to complete work for clients. This is likely because lawyers have numerous files that they handle simultaneously, and sometimes attorneys can be especially busy depending on the status of those files. During such times, it is not uncommon for a lawyer to take days, and perhaps even weeks, to complete tasks that other lawyers might only need hours or days to finish. Accordingly, a lawyer who completes projects faster than other attorneys might be able to curry more favor with clients.
When all other things are equal, and lawyers have sufficient time, they should try to produce their best possible work. However, in some circumstances, clients might favor speed over quality, and lawyers should consider both sides and act accordingly.
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].