Choosing the best Featured

5:26am EDT July 28, 2003
Choosing a law firm to represent your business is not an easy task. You want the best representation possible, without overspending. You want a firm knowledgeable in your industry and with a strong case record.

But how do you find the firm that fits your needs and your budget?

Sally Bloomfield, partner with Columbus' Bricker & Eckler LLP, says you must first develop a list of firms to consider.

"Contact colleagues that have similar legal issues and ask them who they use," she says. "That will be a good way to get started."

"Assess your needs and find firms that practice in these areas," says Kimberly C. Shumate, associate legal counsel at The Ohio State University in Columbus.

For example, does your business operate solely in Columbus, statewide or nationally? You'll need a firm that can represent you in every state you serve.

Once you have your candidates, the real work begins. A thorough examination of the firm and its partners, associates and cases will help you determine if it is a fit for your needs.

"Look at the firms' Web sites," says Shumate. "Know what the practice areas are, who the partners are, and talk to the people listed as references."

And make sure you dig below a firm's marketing hype to get an accurate picture of its experience.

"Some tout experience in a certain field because they handled a case 10 years ago," Shumate says. "You need to see all the facts."

Once you've narrowed your list, it's time for what Bloomfield calls a "beauty contest," conducting personal interviews with the firms' representatives.

"Then you look at things like how well did they prepare for the interview, and how was the personal chemistry," she says.

Shumate agrees.

"Once you've screened through the big issues, it's also important to hire someone you can work with," she says.

David Goldberger, professor of law and director of clinical programs at the Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University, says questions to ask during interviews include "Who are the firm's clients?" "What kind of cases do they handle routinely?" "Is the firm big enough to handle the work or too big to give you the attention you need?"

Goldberger says some companies make the mistake of hiring a large firm simply because it seems the safest thing to do.

"It depends on the company's needs and comfort level," he says. "A big firm's overhead is higher and may bill more, but your work might be handled by an associate that costs less."

Ask who will be handling the majority of the work, don't assume it will be a partner or leading attorney with the firm.

Shumate says another indication of a firm's standing in the legal community is how often its partners are asked to speak at meetings.

"When associations and others ask you to speak, it is recognition of your expertise," she says. "It's an indication that the person has important experience beyond the academic."

When it comes to fees, make sure you're comparing apples to apples.

"You can't really judge how expensive a firm is based on the hourly rate," Bloomfield says. "An experienced attorney or partner might charge $250 but get the work done in two hours, while a less experienced associate charges less but takes 10 hours to complete the work."

And ask what kind of billing detail you'll receive.

"Always ask for a monthly billing statement," Bloomfield says. "And you want some description of what they've done for auditing purposes."

For example, if the firm has billed you for the time of three associates, ask why it took three people to do the work. How to reach: The Ohio State University Office of Legal Affairs, (614) 292-0611 or www.osu.edu; Bricker & Eckler LLP, (614) 227-2300 or www.bricker.com; Moritz College of Law, (614) 292-1536 or www.law.ohio-state.edu