The other day I was flipping through an industry magazine and came across an ad touting a law firm that highlighted the firm's ties to a particular state and a particular practice area. It conveyed a strong message that surely will resonate with many volunteer boards looking for that type of firm for that particular type of representation. The only problem is that the Firm mentioned in the ad did not list a physical office in the state they were targeting nor were the attorneys shown in the ad's pictures even admitted to practice in the State!
This kind of experience reminds us that boards do need to undertake a certain level of due diligence when selecting professional advisers and other vendors to represent and service their communities. If your board is considering a particular candidate, take a look at what that candidate says about his or her company and then confirm. The very old adage Trust but Verify is a good place to start.
Here are some areas to consider:
- If you are vetting lawyers and law firms, verify that the size of their firm is confirmed by the number of attorneys reflected on their website. Even a state's Bar website may contain inaccurate information in this regard. The best way to determine the size of the firm you are considering is to visit their website and count the attorney names you see!
- If a professional company or law firm claims to be experts in specialized areas, that reality should be borne out in their published articles and credentials. If you cannot find those anywhere, there may be a problem.
- Credentials can be easily confirmed. If someone claims to be a member of a particular society, Bar Committee or other industry group or to be Board-certified, most of those membership lists and credentials are easily found these days via the Internet.
- If a vendor claims to have represented neighboring communities, ask for contact information for those communities and follow up with them for referrals.
- If a professional adviser touts a blog (yes, like this one!) ask if he or she writes it himself or herself or if it is ghostwritten by a PR company. This last point was a bit of a shock to me when I discovered that some of the blogs I read are not written by the published authors but are, in fact, ghostwritten by a company's PR arm.
You may lament having to undertake this level of scrutiny when it comes to reviewing professionals who should be conducting themselves professionally. More often than not, you will find that the honor system is firmly in place for most of the advisers with whom you would consider doing business and the information being touted is, in fact, accurate. However, for those instances where there is more sizzle than steak, you will want to avoid potential problems by verifying skills, credentials and publicized information.
Doing your due diligence requires common sense, resourcefulness and yes, the willingness to wait to make a decision until you have done your homework.