Early seeds of change often present the best new opportunities. BTI’s new research has uncovered 5 emerging trends—2 are client driven while 3 originate from law firms. Each presents new tactics, or in some cases a new and much better version of an old tactic. But none of these are in widespread use—yet.
1. Ratcheting Up Client Retention
Law firms large and small are working to turn “my clients” into firm clients. Law firms are developing truly robust client teams and taking deep dives to understand a broad set of client needs and how clients want their law firms to change and improve. These newly energized client teams are led by senior partners with budgets to fund them. Clients are noting these client service improvements—and the firms choosing not to make these investments—and awarding work accordingly.
2. Associates Acquiring Softer Skills
A small but growing number of firms are training associates in business development and client service, with content developed specifically for associates. Trained associates feel more engaged and deliver better client service to the partners. And the firms see long-term benefit in the change in culture as they bring client service into the career mix long before other firms. We see this in a few very large firms and many more smaller firms.
3. Full Tilt Client Feedback
The urge to institutionalize clients and develop more business is driving surging interest in client feedback. Firms are adding to their existing leadership and CMO interviews—which are always valuable—but can’t gain enough scale to drive change across a practice group or firm. By using independent, measurable and benchmarkable feedback, firms get new client traction.
Firms are reaching out to multiple decision makers within large clients, and across a large number of clients—dozens to hundreds of clients in a wave. Law firms have learned this approach not only boosts client service but drives new business—and, occasionally uncovers a previously unknown at-risk relationship.
4. Clients Asking for Succession Plans
GCs are asking their top law firms for succession planning for the senior partners. Clients see relationship partners near retirement and increasing lateral activity. Clients are not only asking law firms for succession plans—many want a voice in developing the plans. You only earn client service credit for your succession plan if you propose a plan—and ask for feedback—before your client asks you.
5. Clients Worry About Lateral Movement
Clients are now wondering aloud if their relationship partner is going to make a move. The almost fevered pace of lateral activity combined with law firms poaching practice groups is causing clients to sit up and take notice. Clients like love stability in their big, outside counsel relationships. Lateral moves are challenging this stability—especially when the client has limited experience with the new firm. Clients wonder openly about the operational shifts, perceived loss of institutional knowledge, ethical conflicts, business conflicts, and partner priorities.
The only known antidote: over communicate the most nauseating of details to your client on multiple occasions. And don’t let your client read about your move before you share the news with them.
Each of these trends signals an opportunity for your firm as change slowly unfolds. These 5 small and early trends will grow up into big trends. Each change is client centric—meaning as clients start to reap the benefits they will expect and then demand these changes of their law firm. Every law firm has a chance to jump on any, and in most cases, all of these trends. Jump now, while they’re still new and emerging.