Recently, I had the opportunity to write a piece for JD Supra’s Perspectives, on 5 Ways a Law Firm Network Can Make Your Firm More Successful. Sure, I’m a little bit biased, but here’s how I feel:
Over the last decade, we’ve seen a titanic shift in the legal industry, and one thing I know for sure is that we’ve all got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Change, innovation, disruption – it’s all here to stay, and how it shakes out will be different for each law firm and law firm client.
What we do know is that the client is king – they always were, but now they know it too. And that means clients expect their firms to get creative about ways and means to provide value. This can be accomplished in a myriad of ways, depending on your strategy, goals, and clients, but a piece of that puzzle is the law firm network.”
The law firm network won’t be right for every firm, but for some firms, it’s the answer – if you’re a mid-sized firm that wants to remain independent, but needs strong, trusted partners to work with in other jurisdictions quickly, then a network may be right for you.
Let’s say that you’re on board with the network concept. And then you find out that there are 170 global, regional, and specialty networks in the industry. How do you find the one that’s right for you?
- Identify the type of network that’s right for you. Is your firm a specialty firm? Do you mostly do regional work? Do your clients operate globally? Look critically at the requests that you get from your clients – identify what it is that they want and need, and it will help you to decide what type of network will suit you best.Important at this stage is to focus on your outgoing needs – if you seek a network based on what you can provide to your clients through your network connections, both from a knowledge and referral point of view, rather than what you can get out a network in terms of incoming referrals, the membership will be a stronger investment from both sides.
- Start with like-minded firms. It’s no surprise to you that referrals are going to happen with people you know, like and trust. Someone once told me that the riskiest thing you can do as a lawyer is to refer your client to someone else. Networks understand that. So you want to be working with firms you trust.So start with the firms you and your partners are already referring work to. You may be looking to expand your reach, but you’ll already have a network in place in some form. Make a list of these firms, and reach out to the partners that you know there to ask them whether they’re members of a network, and whether that network has a representative in your jurisdiction already. Most networks will have some type of jurisdictional exclusivity, but they may be looking to supplement based on a practice area, so don’t necessarily go by what you read on their website.
If there’s no firm in your city, or even if there is, speak with your counterparts at these firms to learn more about their experience with the network in question – get a sense of the culture and fit, the types of expectations the network has of its membership, and the opportunities available.
- Reach out to the network. The next step will be to speak with the network administration itself. You’ll be working closely with these individuals as a member, so you should feel comfortable with them. Discuss the possibility of your firm’s membership, and find out whether there’s availability in your jurisdiction. Three things will be important in this stage:
- Administrative phone call or visit: Meet the administration of the network, either by phone or in person, so that you have an opportunity to ask questions about the network and get a feel for your fit and your firm’s fit with them as individuals. You may want to have a couple of the partners at your firm from different practice areas participate in this call.
- Member due diligence: Presumably, you’ve already spoken with some of the member firms that you’re familiar with, but the administration of the network should be willing to provide you with some additional contact details for other members to talk to you about their experience as well. This will give you a further feel for the culture of the group and the types of members that they have, in addition to providing you some direct experience with the network.
- Attend an event: Networks will typically invite a prospective candidate firm to one of their regional or annual events as a guest, to allow them to meet fellow members, and for both sides to evaluate each other. This is a final step in understanding whether the fit will be right on both sides, and it’s an important one. This is where you’ll get the best sense of the type of culture of the network, and be able to speak to the largest group of current network members about their experience, as well as start the process of building relationships with potential future partners.
With 170 networks in the marketplace, it can feel overwhelming to find the right one. But doing a little bit of research up front and connecting with existing members and the network administration itself will quickly help you to find out whether the group will be the right fit for you.