AVOIDING SHARK TANK LAW FIRMS
WHAT IS A SHARK TANK AND HOW DOES IT AFFECT CLIENTS?
It’s a law firm that fosters an unhealthy work environment for its lawyers by evaluating each lawyer’s performance primarily by the number of hours the lawyer has billed each year. These firms actually have quotas. Usually you see this in the larger firms but the smaller ones do it also. They encourage their lawyers to bill as many hours as possible. The unspoken rule is that the lawyer will not really be evaluated based on the quality of his or her work, the client’s satisfaction, or even the results. Instead, the lawyer is evaluated primarily by quantity – how many hours are billed. This results in a firm that is like a shark tank: a cold hostile place where the lawyers do not help each other or even like each other because their only financial incentive is based on how many hours they bill. These firms are profit-driven. Lessons learned in Kindergarten are lost in firms like these. Many lawyers do not stay in these place for very long because they are miserable there. We have seen this personally and have heard it from friends and colleagues about firms they worked at. Many lawyers working in a shark tank firm spend much of their time trying to figure out how to leave the firm and find a job and a life where they might be happier. Many lawyers actually put up with this treatment for years. Greed is a very strong motivator. In some cases, the lawyers have no choice. They have to bill hours to earn a salary to pay off huge student loan debts from law school. It is student loan debt that helps to foster this cycle of new young lawyers coming to firms only to discover how unhappy they are.
In the end, it is the client who suffers. Client files are overstaffed with a “team” of lawyers and clients overbilled. Some clients decide that it’s time to fire their big shark tank firm and move on.