The list of questions you should be asking law firms you're considering hiring is long, complicated and ever changing. On any given day those questions may be strategic, pragmatic, or somewhere in between.
Sometimes, though, the most important question is one that you should be asking yourself: Is the firm overselling itself? Most likely the answer is yes.
Law firms of all sizes are under intense pressure to create a one-stop shop for their clients. And they will do anything to portray themselves as such. If you need a firm with national reach, the firm's partners will tell you they have offices throughout the country. If you are looking for a firm with expertise in a specific area of the country, the same partners will argue that their roots are in that region. And if you are looking for an international firm, then they will tell you that their reach and expertise goes way beyond U.S. borders. They want to be everything to everyone. The risk involved in saying "no" is far greater than the risk in being disingenuous. To say that law firm attorneys are reticent to admit or reveal their shortcomings is a gross understatement.
In fact, law firms will lay down on the tracks to keep their important clients happy. Getting the right answer to complex legal questions takes time, but the firm always is committed to delivering on that process. Time is law firm attorneys' best friend. It's the measure by which they are compensated, and they will use it to find the answer to any question, no matter how complex or outside the scope of their expertise. But remember, you are paying for that answer.
Because this behavior is so prominent, many firms believe their own hype. They are collectively drinking the Kool-Aid. For instance, nearly every firm believes that merging with another firm will lead to better service. The reality, however, is that there is a long history of specialization in this profession, and it is the rare firm that can be the perfect fit for every single one of their clients.
Law firms also fear that if they don't offer every conceivable service, someone else will. So, getting back to the question at hand: If law firms are over selling themselves, what should you do about it?
First of all, if you haven't given any thought to the question, you should take a moment to do so. When a law firm is explaining to you the breadth of their expertise, ask them for concrete examples of how this will help you. If you have no international needs, their recent expansion into a foreign market won't help you. What they should be telling you is how this expansion won't adversely affect you.
You should demand to know how all of the bells and whistles the firm is offering are going to help with your matter. As the client, you have the right to an answer. If the firm won't answer your questions, then go hire the firm down the street.
Additionally, and as I have frequently said in this space, law firms want to know what you think. Today, most firms are conducting client surveys. You need to fill them out and be honest in your assessment of the firm's performance. But your work shouldn't stop there. You need to follow-up with the firm and find out what it is doing to address your concerns, and those of its other clients. What changes is it making to offer better, less costly and more
efficient legal services?
You also need to leverage your buying power by developing preferred provider networks. Even small companies can create a network. Just because you aren't going to be giving the firm mountains of work doesn't mean you shouldn't demand price breaks. You are the client and you need to articulate what is important to you. And if you aren't getting the answers you need, you have to make sure your firms know they have failed.
Let me know what you think by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.