Working for a Plaintiff Firm vs. a Defense Firm

In my over 20 years working as a Paralegal, I have had the opportunity to work for both Plaintiff and Defense firms. These experiences have shown me the pros and cons of working on either side of a case. I have found this has also given me a unique perspective of each side. I believe this has also given me an advantage when assisting clients, on both sides of the aisle. Here are some of the things I experienced while working for each type of firm, both positive and negative.

1. Compensation

On the Plaintiff side, the salaries tend to be lower than on the Defense side. Plaintiff attorneys are paid on contingency, and the amount is limited by the laws of the state. On the Defense side, the salaries are generally higher as these firms are paid by a business and are based on the number of hours of work performed.

The longer the case is drawn out, the more fees are paid on the Defense side whereas the amount on the Plaintiff side is based on a percentage of the settlement at the conclusion of the case. In addition, on the Defense side, the focus is on billable hours whereas Plaintiff firms focus on client service and results for clients.

When I worked for the Defense, I received bonuses for meeting or exceeding billable hours for the month. However, on the Plaintiff’s side, the fee is based on a percentage of the settlement obtained at the end of the case. Therefore, on the Plaintiff’s side, no money was made on the case until the very end. Bonuses were generally dependent on the success of the firm in recovering money for clients.

Although the pay was higher at the Defense firm, I prefer working for a Plaintiff firm as I get satisfaction from helping people. This is just my personal preference. 

Learn why Billable Hours Matter More Than You Think They Do.

Legal professionals in a defense firm assuming a formal seating arrangement to show their difference from a plaintiff firm.

2. Personal vs. Professional

On the Plaintiff side, you get to know your clients and their stories. They depend on you to keep them updated and to get them results on their case. You become personally invested in their case and celebrate with them when their case comes to a close. This is a big pro for me as I am a “people person”.

On the Defense side, things are very professional as the firm is representing a business. During the life of the case, you are dealing only with company representatives, adjusters, and medical providers. The victory at the end of the case was not as sweet for me as it was when I worked for the injured worker.

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3.  Stage of case

Defense firms are generally hired once the case has gone to or is about to go to, litigation. Plaintiff firms can be hired anywhere from when the claim first begins, to when the case goes to court. Plaintiff firms depend on you to build the case for your client, while Defense firms depend on you to defend the client and ultimately to bring resolution to the case.

The earlier that the firm is hired, the more work they can put into the case to develop it to their client’s advantage. On the Plaintiff side this means making sure the claim is filed timely and that the client cooperates with the process. On the Defense side, this means investigating the plaintiff and finding ways to reduce expenses and overall costs to your client.

I handled workers compensation claims, so on the Plaintiff side this meant making sure the injury was reported timely, that the client attended all medical appointments and that they kept their employer updated on their work status. On the Defense side, we had to file the appropriate forms, make sure the cilent paid what was required by law. In addition, we would assign private investigators to follow the plaintiff to find any reason to stop their benefits or a way to get them back to work as soon as possible. On the Plaintiff’s side this meant making sure the client did not do anything outside of the restrictions assigned by the doctor and ensuring that they were paid appropriately by the Defendants.

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4. Case Management Software

Plaintiff firms depend on good case management software to track cases. The software is very important as it helps to track client contacts, stages of the case, medical record requests, and more. In my experience, the majority of the Defense firms lacked complex case management software as they were more focused on billing software and getting paid for work, as it was performed during the life of the case.

Here are some paralegal case management tips.

5. Appreciation

Working for a Plaintiff firm requires heavy client contact and thus at the conclusion of the claim, clients express sincere appreciation for work done on their case. On the Defense side, once the claim is over, it is closed and you move on to the next file. There is generally no personal gratitude for work done on cases as the clients are businesses and not individuals.

This is not to say that your work is not recognized on the Defense side, it is just not done on a personal level like it is on the Plaintiff side. I have had many clients who have sent me emails of appreciation at the end of their cases. This brings me joy and motivates me to continue to work hard for all the clients we represent.


6. Criticism

On the flip side of this is that some clients on the Plaintiff side are demanding and critical of everything you do on their cases. Some are unhappy no matter what you do and sometimes even when their attorney gets them a fair settlement on their case. 

Defendants can be demanding as well but in a different way. They want cases moved quickly and with the least possible amount of cost to them.

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7. Environment

In my experience, the environment in Plaintiff firms is more laid back and flexible than in Defense firms. For example, in Plaintiff firms, long before the pandemic hit, my current firm permitted staff to work from home one day a week. When I worked on the Defense side, this was not an option. That being said, I have not worked at a Defense firm since before the pandemic, so this may not still be the case.

In addition, on the Plaintiff’s side, it is more of a team environment than it was at the Defense firms. We are encouraged to help one another and are even rewarded for doing so. 

The Defense side focused more on building up individual billable hours to meet expectations for the firm every month. Although you can bill for work done for another person, this does take away from their billable hours. Therefore, there is a lot more competition amongst the staff than there is in a Plaintiff firm. This is not necessarily bad, but I wanted to point it out.

Get information about Why Billable Hours Matter in a Defense Firm.

Additionally, in my experience, Plaintiff firms are more understanding and flexible when it comes to taking time off, especially for personal matters. I think this goes back to the teamwork mentality as everyone chips in when someone is out unexpectedly. On the Defense side, staff was discouraged from being out for any reason.

An excellent example of this was when we had a snowstorm hit unexpectedly in the middle of the day. The Defense firm I worked for not only kept the office open but discouraged staff from going home. I was a new employee and did not have any vacation time, so I had to stay until they finally decided to close the office later in the day. By that time, several attorneys and staff had been in accidents while attempting to go home. When the same thing occurred while I was working at a Plaintiff firm, the office was closed early. We were paid for the day, and because the roads were so bad, we were allowed to spend the night in the office and provided food.


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After having worked for both Plaintiff and Defense firms, I found pros and cons to each side. Ultimately, I have chosen to work at a Plaintiff firm as for me, the pros outweigh the cons. The satisfaction of having a client saying thank you and posting a review specifically naming the attorney and me for the work we did on their claim, is worth more to me than the compensation offered by Defense firms.

I am a people person and so this is just my personal opinion. I know many Paralegals who work for Defense firms and are very satisfied with their jobs. Every Paralegal must ultimately find a firm where their talents and assets are valued and they feel most fulfilled when choosing which side of the aisle they want to work on.

Learn about the difference between public service and private practice.

Wendie Roberts portrait for working for a plaintiff firm vs defense firm article.

Meet the Author

Wendie Roberts is a Paralegal with The Law Offices of James Scott Farrin. She is originally from Beverly, Massachusetts but currently resides in Ocala, Florida. She graduated with a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in Justice and Public Policy from North Carolina Wesleyan College in 1994. She started her career as a Disability Examiner for Social Security and then worked as a Claims Adjuster for Ohio Casualty Group prior to becoming a Paralegal. She has spent the last 20 years working as a Paralegal handling Social Security claims and working for both Plaintiff and Defense firms handling Workers’ Compensation claims. She is married and has 2 grown sons.

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