As we start building the Adviserly platform (hooray!) our priority is to make it easy for clients to find lawyers and accountants that fit.

We’re talking about filters, how we currently use them without really realising, and how we could do it better.

This blog looks at:

1. what we currently do when looking for advisers

2. what we should do when looking for advisers

3. what we could do, if only we had the right tools

1. The broken filter – relying on reputation to find lawyers and accountants

Thomson Reuters’s recently looked at clients’ reasons for instructing law firms: reputation was top, then client service, followed by practice area expertise, price and proximity.

So just to be clear, clients choose reputation over expertise.

That’s interesting.

Presumably because ‘reputation’ is thought to fold in expertise as well as everything else – it’s good shorthand.

Hence why a common way to find an adviser is rely on referrals from someone we trust. A positive referral speaks to an adviser’s reputation. It is a filter, or a series of filters.

There is an implicit quality filter in every referral, otherwise your trusted referrer wouldn’t have made the recommendation. But often the referrer will not have used the adviser themselves and might simply be friends of friends.

A referral applies other filters too. Assuming the referrer knows roughly what you need, how much you are willing to pay, and indeed your personality, a referral appears to be a quick way of applying several filters all at once.

But the reputation – or referral – filter is broken.

It relies on you having a decent network, and however good your network, no one’s network is complete.

The referrer themselves will know a limited number of advisers, and they will (all other things being equal) be incentivised to make the referral even if the adviser is not quite right for you. Good enough is good enough.

This is true even if they are not receiving a commission – a referral generates goodwill which is always nice to have.

The filter, in reality, is broad brush: it says to the client that the adviser will be good enough, won’t put the screws on them, and it says to the adviser that the client will be reasonable and pay the bills.

And that’s not nothing, but it is limited, and in the 21st Century we can do better.

2. The perfect filters – find lawyers and accountants through superhuman effort

The perfect client would ask for more than one referral, obtain several quotes and compare them. This takes time, but means you have a better idea of what the price should be and you get an feel for how responsive the adviser is likely to be.

So what filters should a conscientious client apply?

  • A recommendation from a trusted referrer
  • Experience in the relevant area of law or accounting services
  • They have acted for clients like you before
  • Sectoral experience
  • A price and fee structure that corresponds with the value that they offer
  • Responsiveness
  • Bedside manner
  • A wider network to ensure your wider needs are met

But that is quite a long list… it will take time… and will you be the best judge of what you get at the end of it anyway?

All clients are busy. Choosing professional advisers is one of many competing decisions to be made in any one day.

The thought worms its way into your head: why not skip most of this step and fall back on ‘reputation’, the broken filter?

… No one was ever fired for hiring IBM…

… Good enough is good enough…

And if the adviser turns out to be bad, you can at least blame somebody else. Either the referrer for making the recommendation, or society at large for allowing a bad adviser to have a good reputation.

3. The Adviserly combination: accurate filters and reputation

Adviserly is seeking to work with the grain of current practice, but in a new way.

We will combine the easy application of the filters listed above (technically the most sensible method) with reputation (the shorthand clients use in practice).

Our reputation, that is, for ensuring that the network only contains quality advisers, wherever they are in the world.

Our reputation for finding you the right adviser.

Our reputation for listening to client feedback and feedback from our advisers, so that we can constantly course correct and improve.

We are building our reputation right now, making introductions, for free, while we build the network.

The accurate filters will be coming soon, with the platform, which I should probably get back to working on…

Robert Flint

Robert Flint is the founder of Adviserly and former corporate parter at a UK law firm.


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