Such personal, result-oriented, and cost-effective service is a
selling point of small firms as well. Take 10-lawyer
Hamilton and Hamilton. According to its Web site,
www.hamiltonlaw.com, the firm ”[b]y choice, . . has remained a
small-to-medium sized firm in order to maintain close personal
relationships with its clients, and some of the these relationships
have endured for over a century.”
Although it’s small, Hamilton and Hamilton has a deep and rich
What’s the oldest home-grown firm in the District? The six
partners at Hamilton and Hamilton, which was chartered in 1876,
believe that their firm holds the record for having the longest
continuous practice of any D.C. firm.
And it possesses some of the longest continuous clients as well.
Catholic University of America, the Southern
Railway Co. (now the Norfolk Southern Corp.), the Capital Traction
Co. (now the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority), and
the Archdiocese for Military Services U.S.A. — all were clients of
the firm at the time of its incorporation and remain so today.
Does the size of a firm matter? According to partners George
Masson Jr. and Patrick Kavanaugh, in addition to allowing a
more personal relationship with its clients, a small firm
fosters a more pleasant working environment for its lawyers.
George Masson Jr. (above) and
Patrick Kavanaugh (above right) say decisions generally are made
quickly and informally at Hamilton and Hamilton.
“One of the main benefits is the opportunity to have a more
collegial work experience,” says Masson in an interview at his
firm’s Pennsylvania Avenue offices one block from the White House.
“One of the advantages of a small firm is that decisions can be
made quickly,” offers Kavanaugh.
Both Masson, 60, and Kavanaugh, 55, arrived at Hamilton and
Hamilton, which has a reputation as a strong litigation firm,
after tours of duty at the D.C. Corporation Counsel. Masson’s
stint lasted from 1971 to 1979; Kavanaugh’s, from 1976 to 1981.
Both believe that the crisis-oriented local agency provided good
experience for a trial lawyer.
After so many years in a litigation pressure-cooker, life at
Hamilton and Hamilton seems, if not relaxed, at least more humane.
“It’s a real nice environment,” says Masson. “We are in control
of our own time, of our own lives."
"We’re pretty unstructured, informal" he adds.
Both Masson and Kavanaugh suggest that such a loosey-goosey
chain of command is not for everyone. Those who have been on a
managing committee at a big firm might not like the way Hamilton
and Hamilton operates, but it works there, they say.
“We tend to make decisions over the coffee pot,” Kavanaugh says.
“But we do have more formal gatherings to plan long-range policy."
Both lawyers suggest that this built-in flexibility has helped
the firm keep up with the times.
Pointing to the increase in in-house lawyers and more captive
law flims, Masson, who earned his J.D. at the University of
Michigan, says, “The nature of law practice has changed in
“Our practice has changed over the last 10 years, as well.
There’s less actual litigation,” he adds. “We try to be more
responsive to the clients."
"There are a lot of alternatives to full litigation . . . " says
Kavanaugh, who received his J.D. from George Washington
University Law School. Mediation, arbitration, or just
facilitating the parties in the resolution of their dispute
are all options he and other firm members may suggest to
clients. “We just do what responsible attorneys should be
doing,” he says.
The duo also point out that, in small firms, overhead and
costs are lower so they can be more competitive, cost-wise.
Hamilton and Hamilton lawyers generally don’t have a fixed
hourly rate, and alternative billing arrangements are offered
Networking is perhaps the most vital marketing tool at Hamilton
and Hamilton. “Our lawyers get involved in a lot of bar
activities,” says Kavanaugh.
From such visibility comes referrals, say Masson and Kavanaugh.
Hamilton and Hamilton stands to benefit whenever a larger firm
is conflicted, whenever a potential client can’t afford a big
firm, or whenever another small firm can’t offer its client the
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(Reprinted with permission of the Legal Times)