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“I saw the skyline/smiling lawyers/column on their website and thought ‘that is the firm for me’.”           – No client ever

I am sure the same could be said of building photos on real estate company websites.  Pure hokey-ness.

A website photo obviously cannot tell you whether to hire a particular law firm.  But if you ask the right questions, you can determine whether a law firm can provide value to you.  Start with these:

What are your clients saying about you?

If you ask a firm this question and the respondent cannot immediately provide you with an answer, it may be an indication that the firm doesn’t know and/or care what its clients are saying about it.  In fact, many firms don’t ask their clients how they are doing.

If a firm represents that they do ask for client feedback, it is helpful to understand what questions they ask to obtain that feedback.  For example, if the question is “did we do a good job on that matter?”, the firm is trying to make sure its clients are satisfied.  If they ask questions like “did we provide value beyond your expectations and if so, how?”, it indicates that the firm cares about exceeding client expectations.

As a general counsel, I would rather have a firm that is trying to exceed my expectations than one that is trying to make sure I am satisfied.

If a firm asks, “how could we do better next time?”, it is probably both willing to hear constructive criticism and interested in service improvement.

Gold star to law firm Levenfeld Pearlstein which has a feedback box on its website that asks “If you were in charge of LP, what improvements, if any, would you make?”

Not only does Levenfeld Pearlstein ask this and other tough questions of its clients, it publishes their responses in the form of a report card on its website.  Check it out.  The firm also posts spontaneous client feedback as Letters to LP.

What do you know about my industry?

As a buyer of legal services, you want to know that the law firm has an in-depth understanding of the challenges and opportunities in front of your industry as well as who your competitors are.

What do you know about my company?

This answer should include a knowledge of how your company is structured (because it matters and because this information can be found); its history, size, strategy and market position; and a preliminary knowledge of the decision makers in the company.  Most general counsel are looking for legal solutions to their business problems. If a firm doesn’t understand your business, you aren’t going to believe they can solve your problems.

Further, if a firm has not done any of this research before pitching to you, it sends the message that your business is not of sufficient value to them to do their homework.

Who’s going to work on my initial matter?

Most general counsel don’t want to pay to train a first-year lawyer, nor do they want to pay a senior partner’s hourly rate to look up a statute.  Rather, they want a diverse team, both in terms of experience and gender/ethnicity. This ensures diverse perspectives when solving the client’s legal and business issues.  To that end, ask whether the composition of the firm’s leadership and overall employee base reflects an emphasis on promoting diversity.

Also worth noting, a lot of general counsel look like me, i.e. a woman in her forties with a family.  If I were hiring a law firm, I would not want to hear lip service about diversity that is not genuinely reflected in either the composition of the firm or the specific team actually working on my account.

Can you give me some concrete examples of how you add value to your clients beyond legal work on a specific matter?

The answer to this question can be very informative.  For instance, if a firm says it regularly sends out client alerts about recent rulings, as a general counsel, I would be unimpressed.  This is equivalent to “here’s what I am selling; do you want to buy it?”

Compare this to the firm that says it is watching relevant issues for each client and alerting specific clients about those issues that might affect them.  This firm has promise.

If a firm says (and shows) that it is actively looking for opportunities to identify and solve problems for its clients in order to build and reinforce each client relationship, I am really impressed.  And if a firm’s lawyers spend time at their clients’ locations understanding their clients’ operations without billing by the hour for that time — even better.

[Author note: I acknowledge that this blog is my self-indulgent sharing of information I find interesting — the equivalent of a client alert against which I am preaching in this bullet.  Noted.  However, when coupled with my daily and concerted effort to send information and knowledge pieces to specific clients to whom I believe that information may be relevant, I am going to let it slide.  Also, you can unsubscribe.]

There are some truly amazing firms out there with great, considered answers to all of these questions.  The value they provide you will likely be worth every dime you spend on them.  Please use this information to help you find those firms or, if you are at a law firm, to ensure that your firm is one such firm.

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