I don’t care if you’re talking about law firms, venture capital firms, talent agents, or the Catholic Church. When you are choosing some vendor/partner/relationship, whatever, don’t be fooled by the brand name. It all comes down to the people you deal with.
You may be dealing with a brand name law firm, but know that your experience will only be as good as the partner in charge of your account. “What?”, you ask slyly. Are you intimating that it’s really the junior lawyer who does all the drafting that counts? Well, that’s important, but guess who picks which junior lawyer is going to be…that’s right, the partner.
That’s not to say that you want to go to an unknown firm. Sometimes, you do want some brand name value behind you, but–especially if you’re paying–you should be able to assess and then pick your firm DEPENDING ON THE PARTNER.
Lots of times, you can try before you buy–before you settle on a church, you can check out the priest at a mass or two.
If you’re thinking VC, some questions could include:
- What are the firms YOU brought into the firm and why
- Can you give me the names of 2-3 client CEOs of firms that have been successful with you and the same number who have cratered with you. (Also a good question for lawyers.)
- How have you personally added value to some of YOUR portfolio companies, separate from that offered across the board to all of your firm’s portfolio companies.
- How quickly do they grok your business? Do they have insightful questions, or even better, does their imagination get them started and they follow up with you on an unsolicited basis with an idea or an intro?
My personal favorite is the email test. Send an email out really early, or really really late. How soon does the partner get back to you? That’s a really simple test, but one that shows the work ethic and commitment. It’s not XYZ firm that is responding, it’s the PARTNER.
Find a good one.
PS–the only exception to the rule: banking for startups. There is only one choice. Silicon Valley Bank. Extraordinary service across the board.