Frequently asked questions

How do I find the right law firm?

How important is finding the right lawyer for my business? 

Did you know that, according to a recent YouGov survey, small businesses in the UK lose more than £13.6bn per year because of legal issues? And did you know that the same survey found that SMEs encounter an average of eight legal issues per year, with 43% of them costing £5000 or more? And did you know that the majority of these issues would have been avoidable had they found the right lawyer earlier in the process? 

We understand that finding the right lawyer - or any lawyer for that matter - can be low down on the priority list, when you're setting up and running a business. And we understand that coxing and boxing with off-the-shelf contracts can feel like the best way to manage legal matters, when you’re starting up and budgets are stretched. The problem is that too often taking a do-it-yourself approach can cost more in the long run. 

We think getting the right lawyer on board as early as possible is essential and not something you should overlook. Investing in the right advisors to support you can make or break your successful growth plan. Whether providing advice on company structure, trading licenses, property and premises, business contracts or raising capital, or helping you to manage your employee relationships and appointments properly, finding the right lawyer - someone that knows and understands your business and what you’re aiming to achieve - really is one of the most important things you can do.

Does the risk of making the wrong choice really matter? 

So, if we accept that finding the right lawyer, as early as possible, is pretty important, it stands to reason that appointing the wrong lawyer can have a massive impact on things. We’ve accepted that finding the right lawyer can save you time and money by helping you avoid legal challenges - or at least helping you navigate them quickly and efficiently. And we’ve accepted that the right lawyer will help you achieve your business goals by ensuring legal matters help, rather than hinder growth and progress. With this in mind it stands to reason that ending up with the wrong lawyer will achieve the opposite of these - costing you money and time, making problems bigger rather than smaller and hindering your growth and achievement. 

What are the different types of law firm?

Is bigger better in 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 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 employment 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 attempt 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 the depth of specialisation in some business law you need and they might also have greater variation in the quality of individual lawyers. 

Finally, you could go to a small, general firm. There is no denying that this is likely to be the cheapest option. However, the trade-off we mentioned before can be even greater here. Small firms cannot provide both breadth and depth of specialisation. Generally 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.

Is a “dispersed” law firm a good option?

First of all, this is a term that you might not have heard before. Let’s explain. A “dispersed” firm is one where the lawyers operate as individuals, rather than employees, working remotely or from any office. They’ll be supported by a centralised administrative and accounting function as well as centralised regulatory cover. The lawyers pay a share of their fees (commonly 30%) to the organisation for its services. If they refer work to another lawyer within the organisation, they receive a commission (typically 15% of the fees earned). These lawyers are likely to be senior individuals who acquired their expertise working in one of the large or global law firms. But, like so many, they may have moved to this way of working to have greater autonomy, control over their lifestyle or to build their own practice, rather than being part of a larger organisation.

There are pros and cons to this approach, for you as a client. 

First, the cost. A dispersed firm is not designed to provide the economic benefits of going to a larger ‘team’. It isn’t set up that way. Lawyers rarely work in teams and this means you are unlikely to get the financial benefit of their being able to delegate work to a more junior lawyer to reduce the cost to you. In a dispersed firm the lawyers often have to hire and pay for junior legal assistants from their own pocket, if they’re going to delegate. As a result you may end up paying more because your only option is to get a senior lawyer to do work more traditionally done by a junior lawyer.

Going to a dispersed law firm is usually most attractive if you already have a relationship with a lawyer from their previous firm and want to follow them. It is likely that, once they’ve moved, their rates will be provided at a significantly lower rate than when it was controlled by their large firm and had to take into account all the overheads.

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 are (on a like for like basis) likely to have lower overheads than those based in Central London and that may mean lower fees for you. Most importantly this doesn’t mean the expertise is going to be less, just because it’s cheaper, and so a regional firm might be a better choice even if you’re based in London and 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.

Do I choose a firm or a person? What happens when lawyers delegate work? 

Most lawyers understand that they’re an expense and have a duty to keep the costs at a reasonable level. In short, the benefit needs to outweigh the cost to your business. This will mean making sure the work is done at the lowest appropriate level of expertise, so that it’s also the lowest level of expense. If they’re to do this, in the majority of cases, some delegation will be essential. If managed well, this will ensure you get the very best legal advice at a reasonable price.

Where this goes wrong, however, is when firms over-delegate work to risk-averse assistants. Let us explain. The business model in many very large firms is based on ensuring that a small number of partners ‘at the top of the tree’ earn up to seven-figure sums. This rite of passage approach (where lawyers work long hours with large targets for billable time each year) relies on a high ratio of assistant lawyers to a low number of high-earning partners. By delegating work to specialist (but often inexperienced) assistant lawyers these partners do limited chargeable work themselves and simply oversee the process. This approach tends to lead to over-delegation and to assistants becoming increasingly risk-averse because they’re working on matters beyond their experience. 

Understanding how work is to be divided between individuals of different seniority, as well as the role non-chargeable support staff have, should be a key question in relation to any legal work. Done well, it will save you money. Done badly and it could cause problems for years to come.

Understanding how much to spend on legal advice

Can spending more on legal advice mitigate risk to my business and add value?

Short answer here, yes it can. 

Let us break it down for you. When you go to a lawyer for advice, if they only point out the risks you face they’re only doing half their job. Yes, avoiding that risk can mean not wasting precious time, money and other resources but there’s so much more your lawyer can do for you. 

The other half of the job is actually creating value. If a lawyer takes the time and uses their experience to understand your business objectives as well as contributing proactive ideas and solutions to the problems they identify, they’ll add real value.

A good lawyer will identify legal risks and point them out. A great lawyer will add value by balancing risk aversion by being willing to suggest courses of action that   might involve taking a small risk for a large potential benefit. They’ll look at the bigger picture and help you to achieve your goals. Investing in this relationship might mean spending more but you should get more back from it.

How can I manage how much I spend on legal advice and support?

Nobody wants nasty surprises when bills arrive. But it isn’t just as simple as trying to spend as little as possible. You need to be able to balance spending so it is not only within budgets but proportionate to the value you’re getting back. 

Charges based on the time spent are unpredictable and, perversely, incentivise lawyers to be slow. Fixed fees are predictable and can work well if the work is properly specified but may incentivise corner-cutting. 

Whatever pricing model you go for, things need to be transparent. If you’re going for a variable charging approach then estimates need to be provided to allow budgeting either for the whole job or at least the different stages. These should be broken down by each individual lawyer to be involved. 

If the job is likely to run for more than a couple of months, monthly interim billing can be a good idea. You will be able to see how much work has actually been done in the relevant period, how much progress has been made and, importantly, manage cash flow. 

There are many ways lawyers can charge for their services and understanding your priorities in this respect is part of how Ravenna can help you find the right lawyer. 

Most lawyers start by talking about hourly rates. Are they a fair indication of the work being done and expertise?

Two words: Beware and No. Hourly rates will go up the more senior the lawyer is. It might seem logical that you can compare one firm to another, based on these rates. However it isn’t as simple as that. There is no common approach amongst law firms in relation to how rates apply. 

What you actually get charged is likely to be different in each firm (and sometimes even each department within the same firm). If you’re trying to budget on an hourly rate basis, the total cost to you will depend not only on the rate itself but also the different individuals, different levels of experience or specialisation and the type of work being done. It will also be influenced by differences in time recording culture (US firms, for example, tend to have lower rates but higher time targets because the US practice is to record every moment of time referable to the case wherever or whenever is occurs), the amount of out-of-hours working expected and the level to which the firm has a culture of discounting time to avoid the cost of the work outweighing its value.

Are there more flexible options for funding legal advice?

If you’re looking at litigation then there could be a range of flexible options for funding your legal advice. A strong claim, for a large amount, is likely to be attractive to a range of funders including lawyers themselves. 

The basic idea is that for bearing risk and cost the funder takes a share of the winnings. It is likely to be a more expensive way of funding it - as the fees are likely to be higher - but it could mean being able to afford otherwise prohibitively costly litigation.

In a conditional fee agreement the lawyer only receives a fee (or a larger fee) when certain circumstances occur - usually if a case is won and if money is recovered. These are known as “no win, no fee” agreements, or, “no win, low fee” agreements if partial fees are charged. 

The risk of an adverse costs order against the person bringing a claim can, in some circumstances, be covered by insurance. If the case is won the insurer gets a share, if it is lost the insurer covers the award of costs to the opponent.

The key question you need to ask yourself, before entering into one of these arrangements, is how much can the business take in terms of the financial risk of legal fees. If you’ve funded it yourself and the case is won, the business will receive nearly all of the claimed funds. If you have not funded it yourself you might have avoided the cost risk of defeat but you will pay heavily when the fees are deducted from your claimed funds.

What is Employment Risks subscription?

These services combine cost-spreading with an insurance type benefit. The annual subscription of numerous employers’ funds provides a basic support service for those who need it. If a problem does arise the lack of a cost barrier, for preliminary advice, can help nip problems in the bud. Furthermore, if the employer follows the steps recommended, the benefits can include coverage against not only the costs of a fight but also the award of compensation. 

Legal expenses insurance for business – is it worth it?

As with any insurance, the premiums can be worth it, if you have a large claim. This rather depends on the nature of your business. 

It works just like any other form of insurance. You pay a monthly or annual fee and in return you are insured against legal expenses. If you do need to claim there is usually an excess for you to pay and you will be steered towards the insurer’s panel of lawyers, whose services are likely to have been purchased by insurers in bulk. You may still be able to choose your own lawyer if they will work for no more than the insurer’s panel rate. 

The difficulty in deciding whether this is worthwhile for your business is knowing, in advance, the kind of dispute that might arise and how much it will cost in fees. The amount at stake in money terms and commercially (for example your time and reputation) may dwarf the actual legal costs risk.

Before you consider legal expenses insurance it is worth checking other insurance you might have to see if that has legal expenses as an add-on. 

Other options for obtaining legal advice

What do direct access barristers offer?

If you need advice on an identified legal point, there can be a cost saving in going direct to a barrister. Although senior barristers dealing with commercial work charge hourly rates which are comparable to large law firms, more junior barristers, or those who do not have a commercial practice, tend to be cheaper.

However, beware of seeing this as a cost-saving exercise unless you understand what you’re doing.

Barristers are essentially advocates meaning that they are experienced in arguing law in the context of court hearings. Traditionally all barristers relied on solicitors to gather the facts and frame legal questions for advice. The solicitor would then explain the implications of the advice and help the client apply it to the actual commercial problem. That is still by far the most common system. 

Unless you are yourself a lawyer it can be difficult to translate your problem into a specific legal question and understand the implications of the advice you receive. For this reason going to a law firm for advice and support is often still the best course of action. 

Are legal services from accountants competitive?

Accountants have always offered quasi-legal advice associated with the core accounting or tax work. Some larger firms of accountants now have legal services arms. This allows them a chance to expand their ongoing relationships with clients for whom they provide regular services, such as audit. It also extends the protection of legal professional privilege (which lawyers have and accountants do not and which maintains the confidentiality of legal advice) to the substantial legal tax advice they have always provided. 

If the legal advice is closely linked to other work the accountancy firm is providing, there may be coordination advantages for you in going to the same place (although it’s also highly likely that the legal arm will have little day-to-day connection with the individuals providing accountancy services). The organisational quality and systems of the largest firms is at least comparable to the largest law firms and they tend to be less expensive.

However, there may be disadvantages in being over-reliant on a single provider for both legal and accounting services. The extent and depth of their legal expertise is generally much more limited than a law firm of comparable size and although it might feel better to keep it all under one roof, you might wind up getting less for your money in the long run.

Can’t I just find legal advice on the Internet?

More DIY resources are available than ever before and we’re sure you’ve spent time already searching for answers on Google.

Before you decide to tackle things on your own you need to ask yourself a number of questions. First you need to be sure of the amount at stake and the realistic cost of time to the business. Second, you need to understand the increased risk of this approach. The risk is bound to be higher because, even if you are no more likely to make a mistake than a regulated lawyer, if a lawyer’s error costs you money, you are likely to be compensated. 

If you’ve considered all of this however, there may be occasions when doing it yourself makes sense. If it doesn't require steps to be taken in a particular way for compliance, or if the way you complete a form cannot conceivably cost the business money, incurring legal fees for a customised document or to run a very small claim may not be justified.

Other considerations to take into account when finding the right lawyer 

Do I need a regulated or unregulated specialist?

Some legal services, such as conveyancing and litigation, can legally only be provided by providers who are regulated. 

There are, however, many services, which deal with legal issues, that are unregulated. An example might be an HR Consultancy, which is likely to advise on employment law risks and solutions. 

Sometimes unregulated providers are cheaper.  Qualifying as a professional lawyer takes time and money and many unqualified providers are able to keep costs down because they have not gone through this process. They may be able to bring long experience of working in their field. However, this needs to be balanced against whether their focus is too narrow and whether their expertise is, therefore, less useful to you - do you need an employment team that will be available to do everything from advising on contacts through to managing immigration and going to tribunals for you, or do you just need the contract advice?

How much weight should be given to awards, directories and accreditations?

Some accreditations are only awarded after a rigorous process, to individuals with real specialist experience and expertise. The membership of specialist associations is only a good indicator if the particular organisation has a reliable selection process - an example of this is someone who is a Chartered Tax Advisor. So, to decide whether these really mean anything you first need to understand whether the process has been rigorous or whether membership has simply been purchased or achieved through completing a form.

Awards are not generally a reliable indicator. Many awards have a commercial model closely linking them to the sale of advertising or corporate hospitality. 

In the legal sector there are two main directories worth considering – Chambers and Legal 500. These directories do give some basis for comparison and although ranking can be somewhat influenced by the amount of effort firms put into the submissions process, they do draw on client and industry referees, peer review, reviewer desk research and a submission of information by the firm itself.

In recent years more directories have entered the market, supposedly offering some degree of qualitative assessment. The majority of these, however, are simply advertising copy with a misleading wrapper.

Can I trust legal review sites?

In recent years the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has encouraged the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers to engage with review websites - the idea being that these will provide consumers with reliable, authoritative information about legal services. However, for these to be truly valuable (and reflective of the marketplace) these rely both on the legal sector encouraging clients to post reviews and their actually doing so.  Unfortunately, research commissioned by CILEx suggests that consumers have little belief in the usefulness and credibility of reviews posted online. Only a very small percentage of consumers of legal services have ever posted a review or would consider doing so. The SRA has chosen seven web platforms with whom to cooperate in a pilot of review sites, and is encouraging solicitors to sign up and engage. But, whether we’re looking at Trustpilot, LegalUtopia, Reallymoving, The Law Superstore, Reviews.io, Solicitor.info or Reviewsolicitors, the same problems apply. First, they’re only as good as the reviews being posted and if few clients engage in wanting to do so the picture is narrow and subjective. Second, none of them are regulated by the SRA and there is no benchmark for what these reviews actually mean (in short, how reliable they are when compared to other, external standards). Third, in many cases they do very little more than act as a place for firms to collate favourable reviews. There is no requirement for firms to solicit reviews from all clients, nor to provide information on the total number of matters from which the favourable reviews have arisen. And, fourth, paid subscriptions to these sites allow firms to control their public marketing message through responses to any unfavourable reviews, as well as through providing links and further information. This can appear to promote those firms with subscriptions over those without - rather than based on merit. 

Until such time as the review process is properly regulated these sites should only be taken as a small contribution to the decision-making process. In short, these reviews need to be taken with a pinch of salt. There is no substitute - at the current time - for the expert insight and understanding professional advisors such as those at Ravenna can provide, in finding the right law firm for your needs.

What should I look for in a law firm website?

Most law firm websites have cost a lot of money and time. They’re likely to be the product of brand agency advice and are, therefore, rather like a professionally designed garden. They don’t really tell you much about the owner, other than that they favour a professional look, have a carefully curated image and have ample money. It can be hard to differentiate law firms, based on their websites.

So, here are a few things you could look out for:

  • An amateurish site which has not been updated recently is a negative indicator for the approach to practice generally. If the shop window is untidy and out of date what does it suggest the inside is like?
  • Firms usually attempt to demonstrate expertise by providing briefings on legal topics. The way in which these are written can give a good indication of the way in which they deliver legal services. Are they written in easy to understand language or do they look like they’re showing off about how much they know and trying to baffle you into submission? Beware, however, as in some cases these may not have been written by the law firm themselves so take it all with a pinch of salt. 
  • Specific experience or identified clients can give a flavour of a firm’s capability and attractiveness. Of course, they’re likely to have been cherry-picked but if they’re on the website they’ll (usually) have given permission and you can trust that they think the firm did, or does, a good job.
  • Perhaps the most useful indication of how a law firm works (and its people) is individual lawyer biographies. Looking at how they talk about themselves and prioritise information can be of great use when trying to decide whether they sound right for you. General descriptions of claimed areas of practice, that are not written to any common or reliable standard, however, tell you very little other than what legal work the lawyer thinks they do best (or would like to do more of, given the chance).
  • Hard information, such as client satisfaction measurements, complaints/ negligence, regulatory history or financial position are still rarely published on websites but is worth looking out for.
  • Finally, consider the things important to you. Firms are getting more transparent on websites about their values and approach to ethics and responsibility. If these things are important to you in making a decision, look out for this information.