19 October 2016

The question of subjectivity in selecting and engaging lawyers

Insights

Lawyers are trained to be objective. They are presented with a problem/situation, analyse the facts and then provide a course forward. They provide objective, researched advice. It’s in their nature.

Understandably, I am then amazed that research and anecdotal evidence highlight that often when an in-house counsel engages an external legal resource it occurs in a way that can bring this innate objectivity into question.1

Don’t get me wrong, it may not lead to a bad outcome, it is just that when challenged on why a firm is selected the reasons given in many cases are subjective.

Statements such as:

  • “I know this firm/partner is the best for this matter”;
  • “We work well together”;
  • “They have worked with us for years”; or
  • “I trust the advice they provide”;

are all made regularly.  Many of these have objective undercurrents but are largely subjective.

As the quest for gaining the best value for money is driven across a business the area of legal is now being asked to objectively evaluate the firms they engage to ensure this need is being met.

An annual survey of 3000 in-house counsels by beaton provides an insight into the rational, objective reasons firms are selected. Having looked at the top 5 from this survey I personally see a correlation to the more subjective rationale noted above.

 

Objective Reason2 Explanation
Expertise in area of need I know this firm/partner is the best for this matter
Understand your business/industry I know this firm/partner is the best for this matter
Commerciality of Advice I trust the advice they provide
Responsiveness We work well together
Reliability I trust the advice they provide/ They have worked with us for years

 

The objective reasons are quite similar to the subjective. The key in this new age is being able to demonstrate that a thorough, objective evaluation has occurred. The simplest way to do this is through a Request for Proposal and evaluation before engagement.

So how do in-house counsel demonstrate they are objective in this aspect of their job as well?

The challenge is balancing the timeliness of the required advice with performing this due diligence.

At Lawcadia, we have recognised this and developed an online platform that allows you to manage a matter level RFP process simply, quickly and effectively. Whether engaging across a pre-determined panel or across the market, you can apply the rigour that ensures objectivity and provide evidence you are gaining the best value for money for the business.

The outcome is good advice and great value. A number of in-house counsel that we have spoken with as part of our qualitative research have said that RFP processes are crucial in providing the competitive tension and ensuring that firms are always delivering the best value for their business.

One in-house counsel elaborated further, saying that the key is to explain to existing firms why you are doing it. “It’s not because you don’t believe they won’t deliver a great service, you need to be able to demonstrate that you have objectively reached the decision to engage them.”

By putting law firms through a competitive process, in-house counsel can demonstrate why they have chosen the law firm, and in a sense they are also putting the onus back on the law firms to perform, work diligently and provide value to the business.

Robust, objective and verifiable selection decisions are increasingly demanded by both the public and private sector to assure proper process and transparency.

This trend is only going to intensify which is why in-house counsel need to start acting now.

Next time you find yourself engaging a lawyer for a matter, ask yourself “what are the reasons I am selecting this firm?”  By rigorously asking this question of yourself, and your team, you will start to direct the focus of behaviour and processes in the right direction.

 

 

 

1 LexisNexis, 2014. This research highlights that “existing relationship” is the most importance characteristic for legal departments in selecting a law firm partner.

beaton research + consulting, 2015

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