Has your company ever needed legal advice?
What company hasn’t, right?
Navigating the business world is complex enough without the fear of your company encountering legal problems.
You know you need to address potential legal pitfalls before they happen and manage risk. But where should you start? What qualities should you really be looking for when hiring a law firm?
You may have found yourself doing an internet search on this topic in an attempt to find some useful answers. If you did, you probably garnered plenty of hits for your search terms.
Let’s face it, there’s no dearth of articles on the subject. But what’s often covered is usually less than helpful because the suggestions made are painfully obvious.
Here are some ‘tips’ you may have come across in your search:
1 – ‘Find a law firm that suits your budget’ – Before you read that were you planning on hiring a lawyer you couldn’t afford?
This advice is not going to advance your search for the right law firm by much. Of course, the bottom line is important, but it’s the quality of the service and how a firm works with you for the money it charges that is of greater importance.
2 – ‘Be sure the law firm has a good reputation’ – If your company isn’t vetting those it does business with before signing on the dotted line, you may need a lawyer sooner rather than later. Like, last year.
But what constitutes a ‘good reputation’? There’s more to reputation than ‘my brother-in-law used them last year and things turned out all right’. We’ll look more in-depth at the importance of professional exceptionalism below.
3 – ‘Hire a lawyer with expertise in your area’ – If a business is looking at divorce lawyers to handle its corporate merger, it definitely needs a fresh approach. You’re not doing this. You know better.
However, ‘expertise’ is only the beginning of the equation when it comes to competence. As we’ll explain, your consultants’ expertise needs to extend beyond law to building a true collaboration with you.
The above items all have relevance, of course. You do need a law firm that’s affordable, reputable, and has the appropriate expertise.
But the point is that you’ve already thought of these things.
We need to delve a little deeper to find the less-obvious issues that are crucial to finding the right legal partner for your business. Consider these factors…
#1. Your lawyer should be your trusted adviser
This guidance is placed #1 for a reason. Your company won’t benefit from a highly skilled technical lawyer who doesn’t listen.
It needs someone who hears you when you ask questions. Better yet, someone who hears the question behind the question, and can identify the real issue.
Your legal advisers should prioritise building long-term relationships with their clients.
They need to understand the depth and breadth of your business.
By being familiar with the entire scope of your business, they can not only help your company manage risk, but work proactively, rather than reactively, to minimise risk.
This saves costs in the long run.
The law firm advisers who work with you should be true collaborators with their clients. You’ll want to be working closely with these people, so it’s important that the work works.
And it will only work with the right people. Which brings us to point #2.
#2. Good service starts with exceptional people
This idea goes beyond the ‘good reputation’ issue mentioned above. How do you know whether a law firm is staffed with the best and brightest?
Look to where they’ve come from. Are the firm’s members alumnae of top-tier law firms? ASX 200 companies? Respected government bodies?
Lawyers who can boast having a background that provided them with incomparable training will help give your company the edge it needs.
Exceptional lawyers and advisers are also talented at practising a collaborative approach.
They are team members in the best sense—with each other as well as with clients.
To truly provide the right legal advice, a firm’s members must not only understand the importance of working as a team but make teamwork their key mission.
Providing their clients with exceptional people who do exceptional work should be the primary motivation of the law firm you engage.
Is mediocrity good enough for your company? Of course not. Go for the gold.
#3. Client-centric approach
The right law firm understands that law is the ultimate service industry.
Lawyers may create ‘work product’ but they are not in the business of selling products, per se. Lawyers provide services.
They serve you, the client. To do that, a law firm must have a client-centred perspective.
You should know every step of the way that you have the full support of your legal team to rely on. A perceptive lawyer understands your goals and puts them front and centre.
Your company and the law firm need to be not only on the same page but thought partners in the process.
What do you, as a client with business concerns, want? That should be the starting point.
The process that provides the most value will be ongoing, collaborative, and solution-oriented.
This is, however, too often not the way a typical law firm works.
For that, you need quality #4.
#4. A willingness to disrupt the status quo
Today’s ever-changing business dynamics require more than a one-size-fits-all approach.
You’re looking for a service solution that provides the answers to get your business where it needs to be. It often requires a law firm with the willingness to disrupt the norm to arrive at optimum results for your business.
A traditional law firm model, unfortunately, may not accomplish what your business needs. What’s so wrong with the traditional law firm model?
Think of it this way: you know the real estate slogan, ‘location, location, location’? Well, in a traditional law firm, the mantra is ‘billable hours, billable hours, billable hours’. Lawyers live and die by the number of hours they bill to clients.
What’s the result?
A disconnect in the value proposition the client receives. At the end of the day, you may receive a bill that has you in shock, but still leaves you with questions about where you’re going. The traditional law firm model just isn’t good enough anymore.
A better choice is a service solution as opposed to a time-measured one. This model provides a holistic approach that identifies a client’s needs, discusses possible solutions with them, and can offer a wide range of services based on those needs.
Not a question of size anymore, the resources a firm has available to it need to encompass a broad reach while keeping a laser-sharp focus.
Forward-thinking technology, problem-solving, and analytical skills should be a part of the law firm package.
An open-minded approach to resources both in- and outside the law firm will result in better service for your business. The resources a law firm can provide to you must also be wide-ranging.
Would your company benefit from having excellent legal advice and business support at its fingertips without the overhead of a staffed legal department?
Chances are, it would. Look for a law firm that can provide businesses big and small the equivalent of their own in-house counsel.
Many companies are finding that the open-minded and creative approach of a NewLaw firm [http://peripheralblue.com.au/] fills the bill better than more traditional models.
If this is a new concept for your company, you should definitely consider talking with a NewLaw firm before deciding.
#5. The Right Fit
If you’ve followed the steps above, this is where you should be – having found a law firm which is the ‘right fit’ for you and your company.
You should feel comfortable with your selection.
Ask yourself whether it is a law firm you’re going to enjoy working with? Do they understand what your company needs? Is this a firm, in other words, who “gets” us?’ When the answer is yes, your search is over.
This article has covered a new way of thinking about legal services.
It’s not about just saying, ‘We’ll only engage a lawyer when we need a contract or have a dispute’ and then leaving all the details to your new law firm—and hoping what they do is right for your company.
It’s about the way you want your law firm to work for—and with—you and your business.
The top qualities of a law firm bring together a package of exceptional people with creative ideas for making your business the strongest it can be.
If you follow these guidelines, you won’t find yourself lost in the morass of billable hours without a clear direction forward.
Now that you’re armed with a shopping list, you have the tools to make the best decision for you and your company when hiring a law firm.
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