If history is to be believed, Dreier and Madoff is the tip of the iceberg in the prosecution of White Collar crimes. If the Junk bond debacle is any indicator of what is to come, a lot of people are about to be investigated and indicted. Many of these folks will be in New York, but there will be cases in many smaller legal venues as well. Many of those who are arrested will make the move to hire big law firms and big legal names. This time however, that may be the biggest mistake they will have made.
Wall Streeters and other white collar clients, who seek out big firms are usually thinking that :
1. Only big law firms will have the resources to handle the kind of paper and evidence that accompany the big white collar crime cases.
2. They want lawyers who are familiar with the "way things work" on the street.
3. They also want lawyers who have worked on the "other side" of the law. In other words, they want lawyers who have been Former Assistant US Attorneys.
4. Finally some believe You get what you pay for. The more you pay, the better the lawyer.
While each of these myths have some validity, the truth is that in today's white collar cases, all those instincts may wind up guaranteeing a conviction.
First of all, there is the myth of that the solo small practice cannot handle the paper. While that may have been an issue 20 years ago, modern technology has more than helped the solo and small firm criminal defense attorney keep up with the paper in these cases. Moreover, thanks to the invention of intranets, many small firm practices make use of the same off shore attorneys used by the big firms for cataloging and sorting the myriad of reports, e-mails, documents, and other evidentiary items that make up the thousands of pages and tens of boxes of evidence in most modern White Collar cases.
Second, I think that knowing how things "work" on the street is a hindrance to helping to win in court. Main street and the people who live around Main street are going to be your jury. These people have a fundamental issue with the way things work on "the street." In fact most think that "the street" is geared to hurt them and it is the Wall Street mentality that "greed is good" that put the defendants in the soup to begin with. This is further complicated by their own anger that Wall street and Wall street lawyers took down the little guy with everyone else.
A lawyer who regularly works on regular criminal cases, can bring an air of truth and appreciation for what a local feels and may be in better position to explain that a Wall Street executive's behavior was at the worst not meant to harm a little guy (like the juror) but to protect all the little guys that were in the market. It may be nothing more than an idea that just failed. Further it may be hard for a Big firm lawyer whose starting salary is three times the national average salary (not the national starting salary) to convey to people who will never earn that much money in a decade, how the white collar criminal is no different than they are, and how they and he are just, after all, neighbors.
Thirdly, there are lawyers who worked for the Government who did not go the Wall Street route. Now I am not enamoured of former prosecutors. I think they often fail to see the defects in the prosecution's case because they never saw them as prosecutors. Many are so sure of the governments superiority, that they are afraid to take them on in court. Some fear it will hurt their relationship with their former mates in the office whom they rely on to get good plea bargains.
On the other hand, there are some that are very good once they make the switch. Either way, whether you need a former prosecutor or not, they work on "Main Street" too.
Finally there is this idea that you get what you pay for. I guess some of that is true. The question I have with most Biglaw firms is, Do I need what I am paying for? Do I need a lawyer at Four Hundred Dollars an hour reviewing files and notes? Do I need him to summarize documents? Do I even want to pay someone on the hour to do this? Is an hourly rate the best way of paying a legal fee for me and my family?
These are questions that most Main Streeters ask before they start thinking about fees. It doesn't help you much if you win the case but lose your home in the process.
Finally a big advantage to a Main street lawyer, is the opportunity to be his biggest client. You are the priority case, there is always someone working on your file and only the most senior lawyers are assigned to the file. There is a benefit to being able to speak to your lawyer quickly and to know, he knows, everything there is to know about your case.
In all, the White Collar Criminal Defense Client has a lot to gain, and nothing to lose by coming with his case to a local Main Street lawyer. Now if they only read this before they lose all their money to Biglaw.