The difference with FirmChecker, however, is that not just anyone can read or submit reviews. Clients must sign up for an account and submit a review before they can read others.
“Anyone can leave a Google review and that is a problem because they tend to represent extremes – those people who had disproportionately negative or positive experiences,” explains Farrow. “By requiring every user to contribute reviews, we are creating a more representative cohort.”
The idea struck Farrow in 2016 while he was collating client satisfaction data as a graduate consultant at Beaton. Beaton traditionally only catered to large, top-tier firms but Farrow realised such data would also be invaluable to smaller firms and sole practitioners. Making those reviews publicly accessible would enable potential clients – often inexperienced members of the public – to “go in with their eyes open” when choosing a lawyer or accountant.
Farrow put together a business case to pitch to his formidable boss – the renowned “New Law” guru and author of Remaking Law Firms, George Beaton. At an age when most graduates are checking off discovery tasks in the open-floor coops of big firms, Farrow marched into the corner office of the executive chairman, plugged in a PowerPoint presentation and delivered his pitch for FirmChecker.
“His [Beaton’s] reaction was basically, ‘What a good idea’,” laughs Farrow.
Farrow is quick to give credit where he says it’s due – Beaton provided the offices, back-end support and loans that enabled Farrow to test his rough initial ideas. George Beaton and his wife and business partner, Dr Margaret Beaton, became co-founders and met with Ben every Monday night for a year to brainstorm and refine the product.
“We backed Ben because we believed he could do the work and because the time was right for the idea,” says George, reflecting on the Monday meetings.
Firmchecker.com.au hosts nearly 6,000 client reviews and Farrow says his team is working on verifying and publishing up to 5,000 more in coming months. More than 200 firms are active users and the company has begun to turn a profit. Farrow believes it’s a sign of the times; that clients demand transparency.
“I don’t think it’s enough that the status quo in a professional industry is to go to the Yellow Pages or ask a random uncle about who might know a good lawyer, then say, ‘Okay I’ll trust you’.”