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May 3, 2016

Overcoming the challenge of legal services selection / panel review alongside strategic change.

The Edward Drummond & Co senior team have experience of working across a range of sectors, alongside our core Legal offering. Consequently, Corporate clients have, over the years, come to us seeking an ‘inside track’ on the law firms they should consider working with, particularly in ‘new’ areas. This need has led to the development of a research tool to assist organisations seeking to ‘see through the sales pitch’ to the true technical range, track record and, often more importantly, the real reputation and personality of the lawyers they might be working with.

‘Law is not merely complex… it is also highly ambiguous and unpredictable. The necessity and quality of Legal Services are not merely difficult for non-experts to judge; they are also difficult for experts, even the expert providing the service, to judge.’ (G.H. Hadfield, The Price of Law – 2000)

In a world of ever increasing competition, having the right professional at your elbow, and the right provision backing them up, can give you a clear commercial edge. However, from global corporates to SMEs, choosing which firm or individual lawyer to work with can be challenging. The vast majority of lawyers are very good people, with great integrity and ability, who take pride in their work and their client relationships, but it is perhaps an unavoidable feature of the market that each provider will ‘put their best foot forward’ and represent themselves in the most positive light they can (without, hopefully, promising something they can’t deliver at all!) – what’s more, often even the most senior lawyers are unable to recognise their own weaknesses and blind spots. Taking all of this together it’s often hard to know who the right lawyer/firm for the job really is.

As a result there has often been a tendency for decision makers in larger businesses to ‘go for the bigger more expensive option because then I can’t be held accountable for making a ‘wrong decision’’ – that big name law firm and those big number fees may not always provide the best service/technical expertise (although they often do!), but they are seen as an insurance policy against claims of mismanagement, be it from shareholders or other members of senior management, should something go wrong.

Businesses have responded to this potential inefficiency by implementing ever more effective panel systems, with extensive assessment criteria, a central part of which can be an existing track record of success and a strong relationship with key people in the organisation and in the market. This is a whole topic in itself but, in short, a well-run and flexible panel, accounting for relationships, competencies and cost can be very effective in selecting providers best placed to help. However, these panel assessment systems can struggle to see through the well-rehearsed presentation of senior lawyers and capture an accurate ‘up to the minute’ view of a given provider. Where this is most often the case is when businesses are trying new things; post acquisition in a new sector; opening up in a new jurisdiction; implementing a JV in a new market; seeking funding through a new route, etc…etc…

This is where Edward Drummond & Co can help. If you are in the process of assessing potential legal service providers outside of your ‘corporate comfort zone’ and do not wish to rely solely on the recommendations of existing providers or contacts, or the presentations of the lawyers you might work with, we are able to provide an objective insight into any providers you may wish to consider in respect of their track record, technical competencies and style of working. We do this by taking blind market samples of a broad range of firms and individuals and then, through comparison to one another, providing you with an additional assessment tool to aid your selection namely ‘what do existing or past clients, and the market generally, think of this firm, or this individual lawyer, in the context of these particular areas of work’.

Gareth Ward

Over the last couple of years our Senior Hire Due Diligence offering, initially designed to help law firms test the business plan behind a hiring initiative has found its way into the board rooms of a range of corporate clients – helping them to probe more deeply into the market relationships and styles of working of senior figures.

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