Law Firm Ratings and Related Information

Before engaging the services of a law firm, it is necessary to know its background and performance record. To do this, you have to find out the ratings of the firm about its legal ability and standards.

Law firms are rated based on their ability and general ethical standards. There are rating boards across the country which conduct and evaluate law firms based on confidential opinions of members of the bar and the Judiciary. The ratings are given on a five-year interval, usually after a lawyer has been admitted to the bar.

The two components of the ratings system are:

o Legal Ability – This component is graded in three ways: C (good to high), B (high to very high) and C (very high to preeminent)

o The General Ethical Standard Ratings denotes ‘adherence to professional standards of conduct and ethics, reliability, diligence and other criteria related to the discharge of legal responsibilities’. The general recommendation rating of a law firm must be a “V” which it must first receive in order to gain the legal ability rating.

Ratings Classification

The ratings are typically described as follows:

o CV Rating – An excellent first rating, a statement of the firm’s above average ability and high ethical standard

o BV Rating – Means an exemplary reputation and well-established practice, also indicates that law firm is in mid-career, with a significant client base and high professional standard

o AV Rating – The firm has reached the height of professional excellence, indicates long years of law practice with the highest level of skill and integrity

The Importance of the Rating System

The rating system on lawyers and their firms are conducted to help you determine which lawyer or legal entity is worth hiring. The rating will also show you the level of competence and experience of a law firm as seen on the classification grade. Nevertheless being un-rated does not mean a law firm has no credibility. Many competent and reputable law firms in the country remain unrated or choose not to participate in the ratings. In researching about a firm’s credentials, peers, colleagues and former clients are still the best sources of real information.

Important Characteristics of a Reputable Legal Firms

For a law firm to be respectable, the following characteristics must be observed:

o Professional – Lawyers of a firm must show a high level of professionalism by treating each client with their full attention and support

o Experience – Lawyers must meet stringent practice area qualifications and must be dedicated to the practice of one area of law

o Good Standing – Lawyers must be of good record in the bar associations where they belong and must have no record of disciplinary action against them.

o Respected – The lawyer and the firm he represents must be respected by the community and his peers

Finding a reputable law firm is very much like looking for the right lawyer. Look for the firm that will suit your needs. However, when it comes to choosing the right firm, you should look at afirm’s experience and reputation. These are the two important factors to be considered when selecting a firm that will handle your legal needs.

More information about law firm ratings and information by consulting with California law firm

Starting a Law Firm – What’s in a Name?

When I started my law firm I was confronted with many choices. What kind of law will I practice? Where will I practice? Who do I want for clients? What kind of fees will I charge? It wasn’t until I actually got into the planning stages of the law firm that I began to see these questions as more big picture, firm philosophy type of questions. These type of questions may never be fully answered because they are not static.

One big picture question that is static and that can have a profound effect on the success of your firm is its name. What’s in a name? A lot if you think about it. Think about your own name for starters. What if you had been named something different? What if you were a boy and had been given a girls name? What if you were born in a particular religion and were given a name not associated with that religion? Have you ever been to a place where for some reason your name was looked down upon? These same types of feelings can be encountered with your law firm name.

The great thing about starting a law firm is that you get to think about this and plan ahead. If you are starting a law firm and are reading this article, you are probably either fairly young, fairly technologically proficient, or both. If you are, then you can probably see that the face and structure of the practice of law are shifting gradually beneath everyone’s feet. Competition is fierce, and image is everything. And guess what, one of the first things people will learn about you, something they will probably use to form an opinion about you before they even meet you, is your firm name.

When naming your law firm there are some things you should think about to make sure you are maximizing that first impression. First, don’t use your name. Second, it should be easy to remember. And finally, it should make people feel and think the way you want them to feel and think about your law firm. Although this may seem easy, when you actually try to do it, I think you’ll find it is a pretty tough exercise.

Some you are probably thinking, “why not use your name? Everyone else does.” That is precisely why. Although people have different goals, if you are starting a law firm, one of those goals is probably to make money practicing law. You make money by having people sign up for your services. People sign up for your services when they know who you are. Why blend in with everyone else when you can set yourself apart? Not only does not using your name allow you to present an image in prospective client’s minds, it allows you to build the brand you want. A great example of this is Valorem Law Group. If you look at their website a central theme is discarding the billable hour to provide clients value for what they are being paid. If you don’t already know, valorem is latin for value (loosely). Do you see the jump start you can get on the competition with a good name?

Second, easy to remember. This is practical for obvious reasons. If people refer your services to friends or colleagues, what is easier to remember, Valorem Law Group or Smith, Sands, Zaremba, Charles, Flippy and Jagermeister? Make your name easy to remember and you make it easier to get business – a key when starting a law firm.

Finally, the brand. When you start your own law firm you start out as the brand. At all times you are promoting your practice, you are what your practice stands for. But before anyone knows what you are all about, you can start them down the right track with a great name that represents the firm philosophy. A strong, powerful, confident name can make the difference in someone choosing to call you. It can also mask your size. “The law firm of Joe Shmoe” implies that you are a small firm. Like it or not many people associate small firm size with poor performance or cheap services. Look bigger than you are immediately by having a firm name that connotes structure, organization, and numbers.

How to Tell If You Need the Services of a Law Firm

No matter if you own a business or you are just a regular individual who needs legal help, there comes a time in our lives when we need the services of a good, professional law firm. Here you will find some aspects that can help you figure out whether you need the services of such a firm, and why you should get in touch with one to help you with your legal matters:

Urgent Legal Representation

Do you need to be represented in court on a very short notice, and you need the services of a professional, experienced lawyer or attorney who can help you win your case? If this is your situation, then perhaps you need to get in touch with a local law firm that will make things go smoothly and minimize stress and effort from your part. If you need fast and efficient legal representation, then you must not wait – contact several different law firms right away and decide on the one that best meets your needs.

You Fight for a Cause

Do you want to fight for a cause and you believe the only way to win the case is by going to court? Are you in need of an attorney that knows the law very well and can apply it in your best interest? If so, then you need the services of a law firm that specializes in the branch of law where you need help: it can be civil law, criminal law, income tax law, labor law and so on. Decide on the branch and then seek professional help.

Do You Need More Than One Lawyer?

It is not uncommon for clients to require two or even more lawyers, if the case is a complex one and it requires more than just one mind. After all, the more the better – two or more lawyers can complete each other, thus improving the chances of success. In order to do so, you will have to get in touch with a local firm that will provide you the attorneys you need for your case. If one is not available, you can get in touch with another one quickly and efficiently. This is only one of the numerous benefits of choosing a law firm to represent you in court.

Do You Need Somebody You Can Trust?

When talking about respected law firms and reputable lawyers, “Trust” is certainly the keyword here. Clients who go through a rough time and have a lot on their mind often need a person they can trust, a person who is not only their lawyer but also their friend, one that can keep a secret and can fight for a cause until the end.

If you find yourself in one or more of the situations mentioned above, then you should certainly contact a law firm and ask for their professional services. A reputable law firm always respects its clients and does its best to help them win their case, while minimizing the expenses and the stress. Communication is the key to success, so make sure you maintain a good relationship with your attorney!

Doing Well by Doing Good: Law Firm Social Responsibility

Corporations increasingly subscribe to the principle of corporate social responsibility. CSR is based on the belief that a demonstration of concern for the environment, human rights, community development and the welfare of their employees can make a corporation more profitable. And if not more profitable, at least a better place to work.

Law firms can learn from corporate experience to create their own social responsibility programs. Such programs can help law firms to do well by doing good. They can strengthen the firm’s reputation and market position. They can help the firm identify with the culture and CSR activities of clients and potential clients. They can help lawyers and staff find more meaning in their work and improve as human beings.

In the words of the social responsibility Karma Committee at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck: Be kind. Be generous. Be concerned. Donate time. Donate effort. Donate money. Just find a cause and give. You’ll quickly discover giving is also receiving.

A panel discussion about how law firms can learn about CSR and introduce some of its elements into their own models was sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association. The program was held May 8 at Maggiano’s Little Italy in downtown Denver.

Panelists included Sarah Hogan, vice president of Barefoot PR; Bruce DeBoskey, lawyer and founder of The DeBoskey Group, which focuses on philanthropic advising; Joyce Witte, Community Investment Advisor and director of the Encana Cares Foundation, Encana Oil & Gas (USA); and Amy Venturi, director of community relations & karma at Brownstein. Moderator was Cori Plotkin, president of Barefoot PR.

At law firms, the product is the people – the lawyers and support staff who provide high quality legal services. It is an easy fit. There are many ways that this ‘product’ can contribute time, talent and treasure to socially responsible activities.

Social responsibility: Focus and strategy

Law firm social responsibility is all about making a difference within the community and the profession, and within a firm. Even the best efforts will make no impact if spread too thin. You cannot maximize the value of your contributions or tell your story if your efforts are too diluted. To decide how to most effectively invest its resources, a law firm needs a social responsibility focus and a strategy.

Social responsibility efforts must be authentic. Law firms and other entities should always avoid ‘green-washing’ – telling a story that is aspirational, but not really true. Know yourself. Let your firm’s unique culture and skills determine which efforts to pursue and which to avoid.

When examining your culture, don’t limit yourself to partner input. Law firms are small communities, almost like families. Any effort to define culture and social responsibility should represent not only the interests of lawyers, but the interests of all levels of support staff. Efforts must be meaningful throughout the firm. The benefits to employee recruitment, retention and satisfaction can be remarkable.

DeBoskey outlined three types of community involvement and stated his belief that a good social responsibility plan includes elements of all three.

In a traditional model, an organization ‘gives back’ randomly to the community when asked – as a good citizen, rather than for any strategic purposes. In a social responsibility model, these efforts align with the capabilities of the business – like the legal skills of lawyers. Every non-profit needs legal advice.

At it’s most sophisticated, a social responsibility program involves using your core product – legal services – as a tool for social change. Volunteer with organizations like the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver, or the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center.

A strong focus makes it much easier to make decisions. Encana, for example, focuses its charitable giving strategy on issues surrounding its product — natural gas. Brownstein will donate money only if the request comes from a client, or if one of their attorneys is a member of the organization and on the board.

Law firms looking for additional advice can find valuable resources within the Corporate Community Investment Network. CCIN is an association for professionals whose primary responsibility is to manage community investment programs in a for-profit business setting.

Many corporations and a few law firms have actually created separate foundations to mange some of their giving. A foundation comes with more restrictions and different tax methods. As entities with a life of their own, however, foundations are more likely than one-off efforts to continue a useful existence.

Social responsibility: Good policies make good decisions

Strategy and focus provide the foundation for an effective social responsibility policy. Most law firms are inundated with requests from good causes asking for their support. A policy helps you know when to say “yes” to and when to say “no.”

In the law firm model, where all partners are owners with a sense of entitlement to resources, it can be very difficult to say no. A keenly focused policy makes it much easier to do so and keep the firm’s efforts on track.

Encana, for example, uses a five-step tool to determine the level of fit between a request and the company’s strategic goals in the field of natural gas – with level five being the largest commitment and level one the lowest.

Level five efforts integrate core product or service and often involve natural gas vehicles and energy efficiency initiatives using natural gas. These efforts contribute to best practices and leading trends in the industry, while enhancing the company’s reputation as a leader.

Level four efforts focus on strategic partnerships and often involve sustainable and long-term solutions like workforce development initiatives, signature programs (which can be repeated in other markets) and multi-year grants.

Level three efforts include strategic grants to assist with projects, programs or initiatives made to local non-profits aligned with natural gas.

Level two efforts include responsive giving, which is a one-time gift for a broad community effort that has local support. Participation of company representatives is required.

Level one efforts include the “t-shirt and banner” category, which contains one-day items like dinners, receptions, golf tournaments, events and races. These offer the least impact and awareness for the money, and therefore the least support.

At Brownstein, requests made to the firm are judged by two factors. The firm considers only requests made by clients and requests made by organizations where one of its attorneys participates at the board level.

Social responsibility: Engagement

Effective social responsibility programs involve not only checkbook involvement, but personal and professional involvement.

At Brownstein, the brand has always been about being out in the community. Six years ago, Venturi was asked to formalize this essential component of the firm’s culture into a social responsibility program that would further energize lawyers.

She started by spending 15 minutes with each of the attorneys, to discover their passions – which were used to identify a good non-profit match. After all, lawyers and staff will stay involved and do their best only when an organization is something that they care deeply about. If there is no engagement, the placement will backfire.

Finally, Venturi offers the lawyer’s services to the non-profit in some capacity – but it must be at the board level. Otherwise, she won’t make the match.

Project Karma is a Brownstein program dedicated to volunteer opportunities, and maintains a committee in each of the firm’s 12 offices. It sponsors informal lunch & learn presentations by local non-profits to encourage interest.

The message about active engagement by lawyers and staff must come from the top. Brownstein makes it very clear that the path to partnership for a new attorney is based not only on legal skills, but also on engagement and involvement with the community.

It is important to add a community involvement component to lawyer reviews, even if it is only one goal a year. That lets the lawyers know that you are serious. The Colorado Supreme Court asks every lawyer in to contribute 50 hours of pro bono work each year. Integrating these programs leads to win/win results for the firm.

Not every firm can match the efforts of a large company like Encana or a large law firm like Brownstein. However, there are good matches for firms of every size. Once again, it is all a matter of focus.

In fact, it is much easier to get five members of a small firm to focus on a strategic initiative than 500 lawyers in a huge firm. If a law firm has $10,000 to donate, that money goes a lot father and has a lot more impact to one organization than do $100 donations spread across 100 organizations.

Smaller law firms can also multiply its impact by partnering with others in an industry, like vendors or clients, to support a particular non-profit.

Social responsibility: Return on investment

Corporations measure the results of their social responsibility programs, and use these results to make decisions on efforts going forward. Law firms should do the same.

At the end of the year, Encana uses its five-level model (outline above) to analyze our charitable giving. How much was given at each level? Then the company sends a form to each non-profit, asking the recipient to evaluate outcomes (statistics for what was accomplished), process (did efforts meet the intended audience) and impact (what difference did it make).

Encana asks recipients to reply within 60 days, and uses this information to calculate return on investment. Those who do not report back are not eligible for further contributions. The non-profits might gripe at first, but they seem to change their minds once they’ve been through the process – finding that it has useful strategic value.

It is entirely appropriate to ask a non-profit to document the results they’ve achieved based on your contribution. It lets them know that you are truly invested in the organization. They will see you more as partners and engage you differently.

Most corporations have created and benefited from well-thought-through and strategic social responsibility programs. Law firms are starting to do the same. A program with tight focus and strict guidelines guarantees maximum impact and awareness in exchange for a law firm’s commitment of time, talent and treasure.

What Does A Law Firm Look Like?

After deciding to pursue a personal injury lawsuit, the very first visit to a law office can be a little intimidating. However, there are several common elements that most clients can expect from a law firm – regardless of size. These elements include the layout of the offices, the structure of the staff, and similar procedures. Just remember that an injury lawyer and his or her staff will always seek to make the client comfortable and to provide the best advice possible.

Layout of the Firm

While layouts for law firms will vary, there are some common elements. A smaller law firm will have a reception area where clients can relax until their appointed time. A larger law firm may a have a lobby where a receptionist might direct clients to the appropriate office. In general, an injury lawyer will have a private office as well as access to conference rooms. Styles will vary between firms, though most still prefer the more traditional, stately look.

General Staff Structure

Staffing for law offices also tends to be fairly standard. Most will use receptionist to greet and see to the comfort of clients. Legal secretaries and paralegals support the injury lawyer in conducting research and preparing documents. The lawyer is the only one who is authorized to provide legal advice, appear as counsel, sign pleadings, and determine legal fees. A partner is part owner in the law firm, while an associate is an employee.

Consultants

In some cases, a law firm will call in a consultant or an expert to assist with a personal injury lawsuit. Consultants aid the attorneys by filling in gaps in expertise or helping out when the work load is excessive. They may educate the attorney, provide background information, prepare written statements, clarify evidence, and provide expert testimony in court. Some consultants are lawyers who have developed expertise in trying specific cases.

Size of Law Firm

Keep in mind that the size of the law firm can have a huge impact on what clients’ should expect. Larger firms tend to have more support staff such as paralegals. In such a firm, the scope of the personal injury lawsuit will determine if the case is handled by an associate or a partner. Smaller firms have less support staff, but will generally still have a legal secretary and paralegals to assist with preparation of the case. Regardless of the size, clients should expect personal attention from all members of the law firm.

Upon Your Arrival

The first visit to a law firm can be a little scary, but it need not be. Upon arriving clients are asked to wait in either a reception area or are directed to the appropriate office where they will be made comfortable by a secretary. The meeting with the injury lawyer will take place in either a private office or conference room. After listening carefully to the facts of the case, he or she will either make a decision on whether to proceed or not, or may even request additional time to conduct some research.

While many clients may be nervous about a visit to an injury lawyer, it really is not necessary. A law office will do its best to make every client comfortable and to treat them with the utmost respect. Everyone in a law firm from the receptionist to the most senior partner wants clients to know that they care about their personal injury lawsuit and will make it a personal mission to help them.