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Published: 02 May 2018
Author: Jodie Harris

When they look the same, how do you choose a law firm?

The legal profession is a competitive market especially in personal injury compensation. But what if anything is different between them, and are all their claims simply marketing tinsel?

Choosing a lawyer is always fraught with danger because most people are not legal experts, and if your future livelihood is in the balance, how do you make the right decision?

Because the fact is that, despite appearances, not all law firms are the same. They don’t even all charge the same fees.

I’ve worked at Ryan Carlisle Thomas for 12 years. I had spent 10 years before that with another law firm. I bump into other law firms almost every day. So I know they are not all the same.

Ultimately, you have to choose a lawyer that you respect and most importantly that you believe you can trust. But is this simply a subjective experience and assessment? I don’t think so. There are a number of factors that you should take into account if you are in need of legal advice and you need more of a reliable method in helping you make the right choice.

Over the coming weeks, I will offer my advice on how to be confident you are making the right decision.

Trusting a lawyer - what is it, how do you measure it?

There is one characteristic above all others that it an important in choosing a law firm and it is to do with trust.

Trust is absolutely critical in deciding on a lawyer because in many ways, you have to put your faith in the ability and the good intentions of the lawyer and the firm, and so much is riding on their advice and the outcome.

Trust is born out of an organisation’s culture. 

What do I mean? The most important issue in choosing a professional firm, be it a law firm or a medical suite or an accountancy, is to try to get a sense of the culture of the organisation you're dealing with. Everyone does this. You're trying to get a sense of what that person is like what the firm is like, and you pick up on it. I don't know how but you pick up on it very quickly.

It is something like: “Is this a firm that takes its relationships with people seriously?” And it starts with the way in which they treat each other so that same level of respect also becomes a second nature when they are dealing with their clients.

It's not so much what makes a firm unique but what makes a firm good.

It is easier for small or medium sized law firms to cultivate good personal relationships. That can be lost in larger firms.

A smaller to medium sized firm like us is able to retain a personal touch and a sense of everything being on a human scale.

"I've been with this firm for twelve years... it was like coming home."

I've been with this firm for twelve years and before that I’d been practicing  for ten years. I always describe it to people that for me, it was like coming home. I don't know what it is about it but there was that care for staff, respect for people, the time being put into developing and mentoring young lawyers.

It was a sense of a big family who are there to support each other and then work with clients to get them an outcome. And that level of respect that guides relationships between staff members follows through in relation to the manner in which clients are dealt with.

I will absolutely never go anywhere else.

It's that kind of passion that is very appealing to a client.

That client care is also reflected in the high proportion of senior staff to junior people. That's a really important point to make because I think a lot of people are worried about being brushed off and seeing a partner of the firm at their first meeting and then their matter is passed on to somebody who looks like they just got out of school.

It is also important to maintain continuity so the person you see when your file is opened is also the person who closes it. It’s not always possible to guarantee this result, but we certainly try.

One of the key differences is we are an organisation that has flexibility in running its files. Every file operator has the ability to build a strategy. We have appropriate mentoring relationships with senior people within the firm. So that one file is not just the client and one solicitor, but often there are a lot of senior people around who have had input into the strategy and how the file should progress, and which appropriate experts might be used in the case.

For example, generally it is a better for a client with an injury claim to have that claim settled promptly and not have it drag on for years. That is certainly our objective, and it is for that reason that injury lawyers at RCT put so much time and effort into assembling a case that is strong and convincing up front. Let’s be clear, our strategy is to ensure that a client’s file is properly prepared from the outset to give the case the best chance of resolving without our client having to pursue costly court proceedings.

But, nor is resolving a claim too early in the client’s best interests. 

There are plenty of cases that you could resolve at an early stage by accepting a low offer from the other side.  A good lawyer has to understand the strength and weaknesses of a client’s case in order to understand what their client’s case is worth.  If a proper strategy has been developed for a case, if the investigation work has been put it at an early stage, an experienced lawyer will know the value of the case and will not be recommending to their client a low offer.

For example, I’ve just come from a conference today and I know that my client’s claim is worth double what is currently being offered by the insurance firm. I know that this client is in some difficult financial circumstances and wants this claim over and done with sooner rather than later. But he also appreciates that with advice from senior people within our firm that has been going into the planning of it, he understands that with time we can achieve a better result.

The point is that flexibility in determining individual strategies for different clients is important in securing the best compensation outcomes. It puts the client’s interests ahead of the profit incentive of the legal firm. Lawyers take a professional oath to always put their client’s interests first. The question is: “who do you trust to actually do that?”

Watch Jodie's video: "What makes an outstanding law firm"

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