You scratch mine and I will scratch yours...

I was recently asked this question by a partner in a law firm: “To what extent will your firm be able to pass work back to us?” In this instance, I answered, “Given the specialist nature of our firm, it would be challenging.”

It got me thinking. I know there is no such thing as a free lunch. I am not naïve but these days we are getting asked this question outright.

The law firm partner is raising the possibility of reciprocity. This mutual back-scratching can be the reality of many aspects of the professional services world, but is it good business practice to appoint someone simply because they can give you business back? What about the client?

Often, the dispute resolution department has been asked to build reciprocal relationships by other departments in the law firm. We do come across many lawyers who do not do so as they put the best interests of their client first. They believe their client should have the most suitable possible expert working on their case, regardless of any benefit (or not) to their law firm. There are also, of course, the CPR (Civil Procedure Rules Part 35 and its associated Practice Direction and the Guidance for the Instruction of Experts in Civil Claims) and the experts’ duties to the Court, which are further reasons why appointment based on reciprocity can be questionable in this sphere of professional services.

With the striving for corporate transparency and the fight against wrong-doing in all our business dealings, has reciprocity between professional services reached its end? At the very least, shouldn’t the client who is going to end up paying the fees of the corporate “friends” have full disclosure? That is, the reason a firm is being proposed to them is because they will be able to send work their law firm’s way and not necessarily, as they might have good reason to assume, because they are the very best for the job.

Reciprocity is an old-fashioned practice, out of keeping with the business world today and should come with a health warning. Recommendation, on the other hand, is a great thing – where it is driven by the genuine belief that the client will be best served by the appointment of the proposed firm(s). Reciprocity or recommendation – it’s high-time the client starts being given the information to make an informed judgement.

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