Growing up in Michigan, I moved to Florida as a young man in the mid-1980s. I had a paper route when I was 10, and haven’t stopped working since, even during law school, when I often worked until the wee hours on school nights. Now, a normal work day is 12 hours, and you can chalk that up to Midwestern values. Law school wasn’t for me as a young man, and I worked in a bunch of businesses before ever entering college. Law was always in the back of my mind, but at the time, eating was more important.
I’ve been an associate and partner in firms big and small. The big firms had marble floors and oak walls, and the offices were beautiful. It didn’t take much thought to figure who paid for all that extravagance, and it wasn’t the lawyers. But my favorite office was my first. It was converted from the firm’s library, the walls were covered in law books and my little desk was shoved in a corner. It was neither extravagant nor plush—it was a place to get the work done. No one ever came looking for the books, as computers made book research obsolete, but I read every one of them in spare time. I miss that office every single day.
It is with those values and experiences that I opened the Toomey Law Firm. I toiled in the opulence that is the big law firm, and questioned whether clients were ever served by the comfort of their lawyers. They weren’t. I probably shouldn’t say this, but I often compared myself to a plumber. If you’ve been in a plumber’s shop, you know he is surrounded by pipes and tools, and all that is strewn about in a way and system known only to the plumber. The tools don’t rest on marble and oak; his shop isn’t in the high-rent district. I wondered why lawyers were treated so different from plumbers.
Lawyers aren’t really different from the plumber, or for that matter, the electrician, car salesman or computer nerd. We all have jobs—mine just happens to be the law instead of electricity. I’m not necessarily smarter than the plumber; it’s just that my knowledge is of the law, not plumbing. I’m a very good trial lawyer, but you don’t want to hire me to do your plumbing or fix your computer.
So I set up this firm with the client in mind. Sure, everyone says the client or customer comes first, but here it’s a core value. Everyone in this firm knows that the days of the big, bloated firms are over, and we operate only to serve the client, not to further our own status in a huge operation. It’s that simple. The big firm model encourages, no, requires lawyers to increase billing to move up the ladder and earn more money. Billing numbers are the god and the golden path to success. But you aren’t paying for a lawyer’s success; you’re paying a lawyer to be successful in your case.
Traditionally, big firms had an advantage because they could send lawyers to far-flung places to cover depositions and hearings if the primary lawyer was busy elsewhere. That wasn’t the best practice, as the lawyer with the most knowledge of the case wasn’t at that deposition or hearing. It also cost the client a pile of money for the lawyer to sit in his car. Times have changed, and we can attend a deposition in Pensacola in the morning and a hearing in Miami in the afternoon, without ever leaving Fort Myers. That’s the beauty of encrypted video. Most law firms reject change; we embrace it.
In all my years as a lawyer, I’ve asked one firm to rate my success: Martindale-Hubble. Martindale has been rating lawyers for more than a hundred years, and they saw fit to give me the highest rating— AV-Preeminent. There are other rating outfits, but most are no more than popularity contests run by magazines with no real effort to determine whether the lawyer is competent. Martindale is different because the rating is based on information from judges and other lawyers. I’ll take that over a popularity contest every time.
Welcome to the Toomey Law Firm. We really are different.
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