Choosing based on recommendation is best every time
Clearly, a recommendation from somebody that you know is as good as it gets. But everybody is different and will expect different things from a law firm.
So take the advice and also do some additional research with your recommended firm as the yardstick before choosing. When receiving advice from a friend make sure that you are comparing like with like. A recommendation for a firm that did a great job of selling their property may not be relevant if you are considering divorce.
All types of media offer important insights into the nature of a firm and should be used for your initial research.
Websites are an excellent tool to get a feel of the spirit of a firm. If a website has a stiff formal structure this will most likely indicate that the firm is stiff and formal. If this is what you want then fine. But if not, shop around and make a shortlist of say 3 firms that on face value, or by recommendation, could be suitable for you.
You may prefer a no-nonsense, straight to the point approach or a more relaxed caring approach. You may feel more secure with a large well-known firm or a smaller local firm but with all firms, knowledge is king. A smaller specialist firm is a good start or a larger firm with a specialist department. It’s up to you.
Now, armed with your shortlist, prepare some simple questions and phone up the firm and see how you are treated. Take notice of how the person first contacted (receptionist/secretary) reacts. How willing are they to talk to you and help you? The attitude of the front-line staff is always an indicator as to the management style of the firm and the way your problem will be dealt with once you have appointed them.
Good questions to ask could be:-
- Are you specialists in the area of law I need?
- How many specialists work in this area?
- Who is head of the department?
- Will I always know who is doing the work for me?
- Will you follow my preferred style of working 1.e. aggressive, firm, considerate etc etc
- Do you provide regular itemised bills?
- Will you estimate my likely costs?
- Will you keep in regular contact with me and tell me what is going on?
These questions are simple. But they will give you enough time in conversation to see how you are treated and how open and client-focused the firm is. Expect high standards and reject poor service levels.
Following this process, chose a candidate firm and consider making a short appointment so you can experience the attitude of the firm and see how client focused they are. You shouldn’t need to pay for this initial meeting as you won’t be given any legal advice but when you are there, trust your instincts and if you like what you see appoint the firm. If you do not feel valued and the centre of attention at this initial meeting then revisit your shortlist and try another firm.
Different firms have different approaches to initial fact-finding interviews. You should expect that a firm will welcome the opportunity to meet with you. This will allow you to see if you could work productively together but it is really unreasonable to expect a firm to give you direct advice on your issue without being paid, as after all expertise is what a law firm sells.
Choosing between large multi-service firms or small specialist niche, boutique firms or private client firms
This is an important distinction but is not an easy issue to advise on. So here are a few things to consider:
Larger multi-discipline firms are normally substantial businesses with typically 10 or more partners (owners) for a local firm. Or even hundreds of partners (owners) for national firms. As you would expect, the management of these firms is complex and expensive. Overheads are high so you can reasonably expect higher charge-out rates for the partners (owners) and/or the more senior staff.
Smaller specialist firms will only work in the area of law you need. This is a benefit as levels of skill will be high and response time will be fast. Any downsides are that any extra work in a different area of law will need to be provided by another firm. Normally these firms will happily refer you to another specialist firm that they know will provide you with good service.
The smaller firms are more “hands-on”. They have fewer owners. Additionally, the owners are more directly involved in the day to day management of the firm. This helps to keep the administration costs down.
Choosing smaller firms will normally be more efficient in dealing with any complaints that you might have as the senior people are closer to the day to day workings.
It is a matter of informed choice at the end of the day. People don’t always get the choice right the first time. If this happens to you then you can move firms at any time as long as you have paid all your bills.