What type of law firm do I need?

Author: Anna Coward
What type of law firm do I need?

Let’s start by tackling a thorny question. Is bigger better when choosing a law firm? In a word, no... But the size of a firm is something you’ll want to consider when choosing the right lawyer for you. 

Let us explain. A big, global firm is usually set up and run to manage cases involving large sums for large organisations. What matters to them is winning the biggest jobs by offering everything a global client could want. If you ask them to work below this level, on smaller pieces of work or for smaller businesses, the way in which they’re structured can make them overly expensive. 

They might not even have the relevant experience you need, in terms of understanding how a smaller business works at a day-to-day level. It’s unlikely that a global firm is going to be right for a smaller business like yours, however glossy and “safe” they might appear.

The sort of firm you need really comes down to what you need them to do.  If you have a particular legal issue, or are looking for a lawyer with particular experience of working in your sector, a good alternative can be to go to a smaller, “boutique” firm. They cover a limited field of work (perhaps Intellectual Property or franchise law) only, in a specialist way. They tend to be less expensive than the global firms but because they’re specialists (and often recruit from the global firms), they’re comparable in terms of expertise. 

If your needs are more general then what’s known as a “mid-tier” firm could be for you. These are medium to large firms that seek to cover a broad range of legal areas. They tend to be less expensive than the global firms but there is a trade-off. They may lack global coverage so if you need a firm that operates in a number of countries then they may not be the right choice for you.  They may also have less depth of specialisation although a small to medium size business is unlikely generally to require advice outside of their range of expertise.  

Finally, you could go to a small, general firm. There is no denying that this is likely to be the cheapest option. However, there may be even less depth of specialisation and a wider variety in the quality of individual lawyers. With the smallest firms a single partner might attempt to cover a wide range of business law, for example property, companies AND commercial contracts and that may impact on their experience and knowledge. Now, working with just one lawyer who works hard for you can make for a stronger relationship with a trusted adviser. This can be more valuable than the specialist expertise that you’d find at a larger firm but only if this is what you’re looking for.

In summary, understanding what you’re looking for is the most important part and that’s where Ravenna comes in. Our advisers have a wealth of experience and knowledge at their fingertips so we can help you find a lawyer that’s right for you.

DO I NEED A GLOBAL, REGIONAL OR LOCAL FIRM?

We’ve already established that a global firm is unlikely to be the best option for a smaller business. But sometimes this is exactly what you need. Global firms have offices in many locations, often containing both English and foreign lawyers. If you have or anticipate having legal challenges which require joint advice or coordinated action across a number of locations they might be best for you. 

But if you’re considering expanding or working internationally, going to a global firm, with international offices, isn’t your only option. Medium-sized and large firms may not have their own international offices and lawyers but they are likely to be members of global referral networks. This means they’re part of an approved group of firms around the world, allowing them to recommend lawyers in other jurisdictions (this means countries working under different legal systems). And often, they’ll be used to working in a team with these lawyers, so you still get the “joined up” approach you need. 

It is less likely, however, that smaller firms will have this level of support available in such a structured way. They will probably rely on ad hoc enquiries or third parties to make recommendations for overseas firms and lawyers. This means they won’t have first-hand experience of working with this firm, or doing the sort of work you need. Once again, if budgets are tight this might still be the best option for you, but the pros and cons need to be weighed up.

Of course this doesn’t apply only to international matters. Sometimes, this can be an important consideration for those businesses expanding within the UK. Did you know, for example, that Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own legal systems and are, in fact, different legal ‘jurisdictions’?  

And even if you aren’t looking at cross-jurisdictional legal matters, you might still want to consider whether you use a local firm or one with several regional offices. Being able to attend face-to-face meetings, or to understand particular issues affecting a region or area could be an advantage. And, if your lawyer is likely to be required to provide services in a particular location - perhaps meetings with others or litigation - it might be best to focus on that, rather than where you happen to be based.

Finally, let’s not forget that lawyers based in areas outside of London and other cities are (on a like for like basis) likely to have lower overheads than those based in more expensive areas and that may mean lower fees for you. Most importantly this doesn’t necessarily mean the expertise is going to be less, just because it’s cheaper, and so a regional firm might be a better choice particularly if you’re looking for general advice.

DO I NEED A SPECIALIST LAWYER? AND IF SO, HOW SPECIALIST DO THEY NEED TO BE? 

It’s a tricky balancing act. A generalist could be slow to do what a more specialist lawyer would consider routine… and there would be a greater risk of error or missed opportunity. Too much specialisation, however, might mean that other lawyers would need to be involved to ensure that issues in related areas weren’t missed. 

In the majority of cases commercial legal transactions or disputes tend to share a lot of characteristics - making them ‘general’ in a lot of ways. The specialist element is usually small. For this reason, it is usually not cost effective to go to a specialist simply because a transaction relates to or is described by a specialist area (for example sports law). The exception would be if there were elements requiring true specialism. For example, if you run a sporting goods business, your employment or property law requirements are likely to be general, even though you might think you fall into a sports law category. But if you were looking for help managing licences for sports brands or counterfeiting dispute management, a specialist sports lawyer would be right for you. This is where Ravenna’s experts can help, to break things down and work out what’s best for you and your business.


Want to find the right lawyer for your business? Book your free 30-minute consultation with one of our advisors by clicking here. We’ll talk through the options and suggest at least two law firms that we think are a good fit for your business. We aren’t paid any commission and you won’t be under any pressure to work with any law firms we put forward.