Finding the Specialist Lawyer Your Business Needs

P&L executives need to know that there are good places — and bad places — to find the specialist lawyer your company needs for an important task.

I recount the following with my wife’s permission:

An alert physician identified a problem with the way her body was regulating calcium.

Her internist described three options for the needed parathyroid surgery:

Two of the most prestigious medical centers in our hometown of Chicago — and Tampa General Hospital.

The two Chicago options reported that they performed between 10 and 20 of these surgeries each month.

Tampa General Hospital: 180 per month (later we received reports of a higher number).

Two months later we flew to Tampa.

Results were perfect.

That’s the upbeat part of the story.

The downbeat part:

In conversation with one of my wife’s surgeons at Tampa General Hospital, I learned that the patient in the adjacent pre-surgery bay was from Chicago. She had already undergone this procedure at one of the prestigious Chicago medical centers — with lower frequency in this type of operation — which my wife had turned down.

With an unsuccessful result.

The Tampa General Hospital surgeon told me he had to contend with considerable scar tissue from the wasted procedure in Chicago. But thankfully the result — this time — was good.

… 

Lawyers who serve businesses are often just as impenetrable and mysterious in identifying the tasks for which they are — and are not — “specialists”.

There are three primary places to which the legal industry often sends you to find legal specialists — and they’re too often the wrong ones.

First: Self-identified “full service” law firms.

A website review of the AmLaw 200 — the 200 highest-grossing law firms in the United States — will reveal lots of otherwise prestigious lawyers who handle what they describe as “a wide range” of issues within a particular legal specialty. This from an academic who studies law firms: “Google search for the phrase ‘wide range’ restricted to the website of one typical AmLaw 200 firm, yielded 849 hits.”

As with Tampa General Hospital versus the two prestigious Chicago medical centers my wife considered:

“A wide range” is not the same as “this is all I do”.

Second: Corporate law departments.

One of the legal profession’s biggest trends in the last three decades: Hiring lawyers as full-time employees and bringing work in-house that previously was done by law firms outside the company.

The reason? Mostly to save money otherwise spent on the law firms.

Too often this tempts in-house lawyers to take on tasks outside their experience or expertise. (I say this as both a former in-house lawyer and also as a former general manager.)

Third: “My partner specializes in that.”

As one legal marketing consultancy put it: “Cross-selling is the Holy Grail for most law firms”.

Beware of apparently sincere “friendly legal guidance” that’s actually a sales pitch.

Of course, I don’t suggest that the CFO, Chief Operating Officer, or other executives responsible for the P&L find these legal specialists themselves.

But make sure that your BS-detector is fully functional when those responsible for finding these legal specialists look like they may be falling into one of the three selection traps described above.