By Andrew Dick, Founder and President, Select Counsel (selectcounsel.law) in San Francisco, California
Legal networks are a common way for law firms to expand their client service capabilities to new markets while retaining their independence. The standard model tends to be a club-like group where firms simply buy in to the organization. The member firms’ dues are then used to support some minimal infrastructure and an annual get-together or two. From there, member firms are encouraged to offer their clients in-network referrals. This can be a helpful resource for the law firms, but it may or may not be an actual client benefit.
The legal services market has changed dramatically. High-end boutique law firms are increasingly in demand as a cost-effective alternative to the big firms. This presents a new opportunity for legal networks, but these networks need to adapt to the needs of the client and diversify the historically member-centric approach.
With typical law firm networks, the network serves largely as a resource for the member firms, with little or no focus on how the network can serve as a direct resource to clients. Flipping the model on its head by looking at how clients can derive value from a legal network provides a unique take on the network model and how it can perform better for clients and the network members.
A new kind of legal network has emerged to meet that demand. Select Counsel is a network of attorneys rather than law firms. Each attorney has been carefully selected to curate a network where deep experience is represented across all practices and geographic regions. Select Counsel’s online platform has sophisticated search and filtering tools to enable clients to find the right attorney.
Select Counsel also offers a free concierge-style service where clients can inquire about their legal needs and Select Counsel will personally assemble a list of attorneys from its network with relevant expertise.
Lawyers say the success of Select Counsel’s client-centric legal network is based on its key differentiators:
Select Counsel’s network of experienced lawyers across the country is a primary draw for Jordan Kanfer, executive vice president of global enterprise solutions and general counsel at NTT America. He says he can easily find small firm lawyers with solid credentials when and where he needs them.
“If I need to find counsel to handle a local regulatory matter in Southern California or negotiate a commercial real estate transaction or lease in Atlanta, I know that I could quickly get a trusted referral from Select Counsel.”
A law firm network is only as strong as its reputation. For this reason, qualifications and credentials of its members are key in defining the strength of Select Counsel, which vets all of its members. Lawyers in the network have an average of 10 years of experience at AmLaw 200 firms, and an average of 20 years of total practice experience.
Milwaukee lawyer Robyn Shapiro brings wide-ranging experience in health care and life sciences law plus a Harvard Law degree to her law practice, which focuses on matters relating to health care and research compliance. Her past positions include partner at Drinker Biddle and professor and director at the Bioethics Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
“The strength of the Select Counsel network is being able to count on its quality throughout,” Shapiro said. “I know that when I provide a referral to a client, he or she will get a highly capable attorney with a depth of relevant experience and expertise.”
As a network of attorneys, as opposed to firms, each attorney member makes the decision to pay the dues to participate in a strong network of their legal peers.
When lawyers have skin in the game, they must focus on meeting the needs of each client – either through providing excellent client service themselves or providing a trusted referral within the network organization – while maintaining the strength of the brand that represents them.
Select Counsel’s network also provides opportunities for lawyers to share best practices in legal service delivery. Patrick Richards, an intellectual property lawyer in Chicago and former partner at McDermott Will & Emery, focuses on strategies for growing businesses, particularly small and mid-size businesses, as well as with entrepreneurs. Like many small firm attorneys, he uses Select Counsel to collaborate with other members on innovative ways to serve their clients.
“Select Counsel connects me to other lawyers in the network, through in-person networking events and the online discussion board. The relationships formed through these connections have helped me better serve my clients.” Richards said.
Value and Flexibility
Clients recognize the value of having access to this range of expertise. The Select Counsel network is built on reciprocated trust among lawyers, who can quickly draw on the knowledge of their peers for cost-effective solutions.
Shira Weissman, general counsel at Rabin Worldwide, Inc., wanted a one-stop shop for her legal needs and found that full-service value can be found outside big firms.
“Select Counsel’s network provides the best of both worlds,” Weissman said. “High caliber lawyers across a full range of practices that you’d typically expect from a large, full-service firm combined with the efficiency that comes with a boutique practice.”