The 17 Biggest Takeaways From BTI’s Mid-Year Market Update

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So many changes. So hard to uncover. So easy to overlook. So lucrative for the firms who can talk risk and uncertainty. Here is a recap of our BTI Mid-Year Market Update 2019 webinar on June 19, 2019:

We lay out the defining new trends and opportunities changing the market. But first, we would like to thank the more than 1,200 individuals who joined us and appreciate all the feedback—especially considering how much client feedback we develop for our clients. Here are the highlights:

  1. Economic uncertainty is tied at all-time high with the financial crisis—driving a surge in new, complex legal work

  2. The surge in spending on complex work is driving unrelenting rate pressure in all other work

  3. Corporate counsel added $600 million to their outside counsel budgets since December 2018

  4. Clients want bigger, stronger law firm teams for complex work, especially in: cybersecurity, M&A, litigation, investigations, and anything smelling of Bet-the-Company work

  5. Clients want to hire law firms they believe can scale up to a larger team if the need should arise

  6. Large law firms have to prove they can work as a collaborative team—49% of clients think they can’t

  7. Mid-sized firms have to prove their team can work with the client and play a lead role when needed—most clients think medium sized firms need direction

  8. Small firms have to prove they understand the nature of the real or perceived business risk—clients already believe they can work in teams

  9. Clients are hiring small, medium, and large firms for lucrative complex work

  10. Only 36% of corporate counsel recommend a law firm to a peer—taking a key source of new business out of the system and ramping up RFPs

  11. Clients rate their law firms an average of 8.3 out of 10 for dealing with complexity

  12. 77% of client hires in the last year are new law firms—clients are looking for firms who know how to deliver services in the face of record uncertainty—and law firms who perform at 8.3

  13. Corporate counsel single out 23% of law firms as highly skilled in dealing with complexity

  14. Most top legal decision makers don’t see law firms asking about or indicating they understand the nature of uncertainty clients face today

  15. Law firms with sophisticated client feedback systems are learning about the uncertainty and complex matters well before anyone else

  16. These same law firms are going far beyond asking about goals, needs, and the ideal relationships

  17. You can learn the questions to ask to uncover this coveted work in these complimentary client feedback tools or by contacting us here

3 themes emerge: 1.) the stakes are high, 2.) clients want reinforcements in the waiting, 3.) you can’t get this work without deep, meaningful client dialogue. You can start with your best clients, your largest clients, or we love assigning each client-facing partner 2 clients to go learn about the risk and uncertainty. You will accomplish more with bite-sized goals spread throughout the firm than a big initiative.

Use the BTI complimentary client feedback tools to start, watch the video recording here, and go set some goals for your partners. Someday the world may be less complex.

Best in the market ahead.

MBR

Here's Exactly How the Raytheon UTX Deal Impacts Every Single Law Firm

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Deals are getting bigger than anyone is thinking about. Way bigger.

Older established companies—Raytheon, UTX, Fiat Chrysler, and Renault come to mind—now see M&A as only 1 of a small number of strategies to drive growth, reduce costs, create the necessary scale to compete, or take on the massive R&D risk to develop transformational products. This is part of the new world order.

Newer companies—Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and QUALCOMM—look to M&A to position themselves for the future. These companies don’t let size faze them. They may face strong political headwinds, but these organizations are smart and relentless. The headwinds just add to the complexity—making these deals high risk even if they are not mega-sized.

Clients believe only a handful of law firms are truly positioned to handle the size, scale, and complexity these deals bring. Ultimately, clients see the field of law firms able to play lead counsel on these deals as small—maybe 12 to 20 players total.

The Titan Deal Firms (TDF) will configure themselves, build the infrastructure, and staff up for the biggest deals to come. And, they will hunt this work down around the world. The successful TDFs will enjoy premier branding to attract inbound leads. TDFs will learn to hone their business development skills to position themselves to be hired 6 months before clients seriously start acting on any deal—which is how most M&A hires are made.

We also see this happening in the Private Equity world. Deals are getting bigger and more capital is being put to work. These shifts in deal size lead to unprecedented opportunity for law firms of all sizes and stature.

Great News for All Other Firms

As law firms in the M&A space migrate to the Titan deals in the market, there is unprecedented opportunities for new players to get into this lucrative space. Firms outside the mega-deal firms will win big. These firms will take on the deals the TDF firms leave behind or refer out. All firms will move up and have access to larger deals as they step in to fill the void in the market. The real winners will start to position themselves now—changing their pitches to engage large clients in dialogue about M&A. You can follow the playbook:

 
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I also recommend revisiting your strategic plans for M&A. The successful firms, the ones able to fill the void (and the TDFs) will design their strategy, resources, metrics, and goals to drive success. This includes deep and penetrating feedback on how clients are planning their M&A—as your clients are key drivers in your success.

There are few opportunities to witness, never mind participate in, a fundamental redefinition of the market. There is little downside risk for anyone with (or who wants) a meaningful M&A practice. The upside is enormous—and you can say you were there.

Congrats to Shearman & Sterling and Wachtell on their roles in the market-defining deal between Raytheon and UTX. And look for more to come.

Best of luck in the market ahead.

MBR

How to Get Rid of BD Skeptics and Directories in One Swoop

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Easy. Just wait.

24% of law firm marketing leaders say the BD skeptics will disappear in 2 years. Why? These CMOs think the combination of heightened competition, dwindling client retention, new client demands, and new GCs shopping for law firms will convert the unbelieving. And, they add, the baby boomers keep retiring so the skeptics in this group are dropping out of the system.

You are best served avoiding the skeptics at all costs and spending your time and energy on your BD believers. You can read more about CMO advice on dealing with the BD skeptics while they are still in your ranks here.

We asked more than 160 marketing leaders what trends would disappear from the legal marketing and business development world. While BD skeptics were the number one answer—here is the rest of the story:

Directories

15% of CMOs tell us directories will disappear. They point to 3 main reasons: 1) law firms will decide to stop using them as they did Martindale-Hubbell in 2007; 2) firms will no longer want to the fund the resources to support the effort; and 3) strong prayers by CMOs wishing they will disappear.

But, in an interesting twist—BTI sees more and more law firms embracing rankings as a measurement tool—so—this may be one of the last trends to disappear.

Old School Marketing

Another 15% of law firm marketing leaders say the last vestiges of traditional marketing communications including printed brochures, generic branding, mass-market webinars, and widespread broadcast messaging will disappear.

New School Marketing

A small group of CMOs predict social media marketing will vanish—as it is much less effective than personal interaction with clients and potential clients. Their point about personal interaction is well taken, but digital marketing can be to personal contact what spinach is to Popeye.

Nothing Will Disappear

25% of CMOs tell us nothing will disappear. They believe law firms will cling to their ways—printing brochures, sending mountains of aseptic email alerts to clients and prospects, and embracing their directories and rankings.

And the Point Is…

3 of 4 CMOs see (or hope) key aspects of the marketing mix going away. This is an undercurrent for change. It’s not enough of a wave to change direction completely—but enough to change course a bit.

MBR

Clients to Law Firms: Lean and Mean Legal Teams are Dead

 
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About 22 minutes into an in-depth client feedback interview I conducted, this client shared the real Achilles’ heel holding back the relationship. Our client, a mid-sized law firm, was steadily billing this client about $440,000 per month. Based on the feedback above, our client started offering bigger teams and staffing for contingencies. 7 months later, our client is now billing this same client just over $900,000 monthly. 

Lean and mean is dead. At least in any matter with risk or importance. Client thinking is going through a rare transformation—the risk of a legal team who can’t handle an unexpected problem far exceeds the savings of a lean legal team. Client risk and uncertainty are the new drivers in evaluating teams, and almost everything else. Your firm may have THE rock star in a practice—but if clients think you can’t scale up, they’ll look elsewhere.

How will you know if the matter in front of you is one of those matters, or in the case of our client, a continuing stream of matters? Here’s how:

 
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The move away from lean and mean is catching 62% of law firms off guard. Clients report law firms still propose smaller teams with no thought to contingencies, suggesting these law firms don’t understand what they are getting into. Clients will avoid these firms and unfortunately will still tell these firms it’s because of their rates—the easiest answer in the world to say no to a law firm—so don’t be fooled.

We will be discussing this and more during our upcoming BTI Mid-Year Webinar: 5 New Trends Changing How You Win High-Rate Work on June 19 at Noon Eastern. Please join us.

Clients Rank EY Law in Top 25% of Law Firm Brands

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Another first—a milestone for the Big 4 as well as law firms. 694 top legal decision makers rank the EY Law brand number 138 out of the 650 legal providers serving large clients in the US. Deloitte also makes a noteworthy appearance and is ranked in the top 35%. What makes these results even more significant is the rankings are all based on unprompted, open-ended responses from corporate counsel. BTI’s methodology does not probe on the names of specific legal providers and law firms cannot refer clients to be included in this research. Every law (or Big 4) firm earns its ranking on its own brand strength.

This ranking serves as another barometer of the Big 4 firms gaining traction in practicing law. EY Law’s brand performance is driven by the firm’s work with larger organizations—many of whom use EY Law outside the US. These clients don’t see the name, or experience, with EY Law as new.

EY Law is hitting the driving attributes clients use to assess law firms. Corporate counsel recommend the firm to peers and keep EY Law on their short list. These top legal decision makers note EY Law for its continuing innovation, tech savvy, and its efforts to improve the client experience—one of the most influential brand attributes. The only attribute the firm has yet to establish itself is as a bet-the-company firm. 

The Big 4 joining the ranks of best-branded law firms is only one of many changes in brand and client perception of law firms—all of which drive clients’ decisions to hire one law firm over another. You can see the other changes in the 9 key attributes driving law firms brands and hirability here:

Fewer Premium Worthy Law Firms

Clients’ Short Lists Get Longer

Fewer Bet-the-Company Law Firms

Clients See Fewer Movers and Shakers

Clients Say Tech Savvy Harder to Find

More Law Firms Making Changes to Deliver More Value

Clients See a Few Firms as Long-Term Leaders

More Law Firms Earning Client Recommendations

Fewer Firms Improving the Client Experience

 

You can learn more about these insights and detailed changes in your firm’s brand in the newly released BTI Brand Elite 2019: Client Perceptions of the Best-Branded Law Firms, available for purchase now.

 

Fewer Firms Improving the Client Experience

Fewer law firms are showing clients innovation around improving the client experience—top legal decision makers point to 14.6% fewer firms than last year. Clients are changing their expectations and demands as they face increased complexity and uncertainty—making it harder for law firms to understand. Fewer firms can keep up or improve as a result. This makes the top-branded firms even more impressive.

Please join us in congratulating this elite group of firms recognized as client service strategists:

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Best of the Best

• Hogan Lovells
• Jones Day
• Littler
• McGuireWoods
• Morgan Lewis
• Orrick
• Reed Smith

Leaders

• Arnold & Porter
• BakerHostetler
• Covington
• Davis Polk
• Dechert
• Dentons
• DLA Piper
• Gibson Dunn
• King & Spalding
• McDermott Will & Emery
• Paul, Weiss
• Seyfarth Shaw
• Sidley
• Skadden
• Troutman Sanders
• Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
• Weil

More Law Firms Earning Client Recommendations

Top legal decision makers recommend 293 law firms, 21.6% more law firms for 2019. This upswing is on the heels of a 3-year downtrend. We see 2 driving reasons:

1) A number of law firms are having success with their firmwide client service excellence initiatives—bringing new unprompted recommendations from clients.

2) Clients are using more law firms than last year—and a number of these firms are picking up new recommendations in the early stages of the relationship.

We are talking about GC-to-GC recommendations—the kind taking place in private and frequent conversations – when top legal decision makers share their experiences with different law firms. These unprompted peer-to-peer recommendations are the most powerful—and lead to serious new business.

Please join me in congratulating the firms with the best branding through unprompted client-to-client recommendations:

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Clients See a Few Firms as Long-Term Leaders

Clients keep a distant eye on law firm mergers—and have bias for firms who will emerge the winners—especially for big, and potentially long, litigation or regulatory work. Every client knows a merged firm can become conflicted—and this means work for the client. Top legal decision makers name 28 fewer law firms to the list than last year as survivors—firms who will emerge as the leaders over the long term. Note how the Best of the Best also match the firms law firm leaders believe will emerge as long-term leaders.

Please join us in congratulating the brands clients say will be among the last firm standing:

Best of the Best

• Baker McKenzie
• DLA Piper
• Jones Day
• Latham & Watkins
• Skadden

Leaders

• Cooley
• Cravath, Swaine & Moore
• Dentons
• Gibson Dunn
• Greenberg Traurig
• Hogan Lovells
• Kirkland & Ellis
• Mayer Brown
• Morgan Lewis
• Norton Rose Fulbright
• Sidley
• Sullivan & Cromwell
• Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
• White & Case

More Law Firms Making Changes to Deliver More Value

Clients reported 20.2% more law firms this year than last in making changes to the way they deliver services to add more value. This translates to an additional 50 more firms. These firms are simplifying work processes, using non-lawyers, non-partner track lawyers and a host of other tools, as we outline in BTI Legal Innovation and Technology Outlook.

Please join us in congratulating these value-adding firms:

Best of the Best

• Gibson Dunn
• Jones Day
• Latham & Watkins
• Littler
• Skadden

Leaders

• Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
• BakerHostetler
• Cooley
• Dentons
• DLA Piper
• Eversheds Sutherland
• Greenberg Traurig
• Hogan Lovells
• Hunton Andrews Kurth
• Jackson Lewis
• Morgan Lewis
• Reed Smith
• Sidley
• Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

Clients Say Tech Savvy Harder to Find

Law firms able to earn the tech-savvy distinction dropped 9.2% from last year, with 109 firms making the cut this year. This down from 200 law firms in 2017. Clients tell us, like the Movers & Shakers, law firms are looking the same—making it harder than prior years to leave an imprint on clients. 

Please congratulate these tech-savvy firms:

Best of the Best

• Dentons
• DLA Piper
• Latham & Watkins
• Ogletree Deakins
• Seyfarth Shaw

Leaders

• Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
• Baker McKenzie
• Cooley
• Hogan Lovells
• Jones Day
• King & Spalding
• Littler
• Morgan Lewis
• Orrick
• Skadden
• White & Case

Learn how clients spot tech-savvy firms in the new BTI Brand Elite 2019: Client Perceptions of the Best Branded Law Firms.

Clients See Fewer Movers and Shakers

After a solid 6 years of increase, clients see fewer law firms moving and shaking. Clients tell us more law are doing the same new things—making it less innovative. Overall, the number of law firms clients see as movers and shakers dropped 4.2%.

Clients named 3 fewer firms to the Best of the Best list and 9 fewer in total. This innovative attribute measures those adding value by delivering services or behaviors others do not.

Please join us in congratulating this year’s innovative movers and shakers:

 
 
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Learn what it takes to be a mover & shaker in the new BTI Brand Elite 2019: Client Perceptions of the Best Branded Law Firms.

Fewer Bet-the-Company Law Firms

The number of law firms clients think can handle bet-the-company matters fell by 16.1%, down to just 94 firms this year. As the complexity and stakes clients face grow higher, clients are becoming more selective and are dramatically raising their expectations.

Join us in congratulating the following firms with the best bet-the-company brands:

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Learn how to gain the coveted bet-the-company status in the new BTI Brand Elite 2019: Client Perceptions of the Best Branded Law Firms.

Clients' Short Lists Get Longer

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Everyone wants to be on the short list. And clients are adding to them, lengthening their lists by 6.4% this year over last. The short list is the first stop before clients make a hiring decision. The process starts with the firms on the short list and moves on from there.

The law firms enjoying a strong position on clients’ short lists in the just-released BTI Brand Elite 2019 are:

 
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Learn how to earn and keep a spot on clients’ short lists, in the new BTI Brand Elite 2019: Client Perceptions of the Best Branded Law Firms.

Fewer Premium Worthy Law Firms

Clients are facing more complexity and uncertainty than ever before—the Economic Policy Uncertainty Index is at an all-time high. Clients gladly pay premiums for the firms who are comfortable with uncertainty and can simplify the complex. The number of firms meeting this threshold dropped substantially—a steep 22.4% from last year.

Law firms enjoying a coveted spot on the premium worthy list in the just-released BTI Brand Elite 2019 are:

 

Best of the Best

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• Davis Polk
• Gibson Dunn
• Kirkland & Ellis
• Latham & Watkins
• Morgan Lewis
• Paul, Weiss
• Skadden
• Sullivan & Cromwell

Leaders

• Arnold & Porter
• Baker McKenzie
• Cooley
• Cravath, Swaine & Moore
• Debevoise & Plimpton
• Dechert
• DLA Piper
• Fried Frank
• Hogan Lovells
• Jones Day
• King & Spalding
• Mayer Brown
• McDermott Will & Emery
• Pillsbury
• Sidley
• Weil
• White & Case
• WilmerHale

 

Learn how to earn premium worthy status, and keep it, in the new BTI Brand Elite 2019: Client Perceptions of the Best Branded Law Firms.

Skadden Reclaims Best Brand: 18 Firms Move Up in New BTI Brand Elite

Skadden reclaims its position as the best-branded law firm. Benefiting directly from the increased complexity and uncertainty clients face—clients rank Skadden as the firm to turn to in bet-the-company situations more than any other firm.

Fully 18 firms in the 28 Brand Elite firm improved their brand over last year. These firms include:

 

• Skadden
• Morgan Lewis
• Gibson Dunn
• Kirkland & Ellis
• Reed Smith
• Hogan Lovells
• McGuireWoods
• Davis Polk
• Seyfarth Shaw

• Orrick
• Paul, Weiss
• King & Spalding
• Covington
• Mayer Brown
• Norton Rose Fulbright
• Squire Patton Boggs
• Ropes & Gray
• Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan

 

Quinn Emanuel makes its debut on the BTI Brand Elite—the 28 law firms with the best brands. Quinn is on an ever-growing number of clients’ short lists and has improved its client experience to the point where the firm’s brand is among the elite—and attracts inbound referrals.

A total of 6 law firms return to the BTI Brand Elite:

 

• Seyfarth Shaw
• Orrick
• King & Spalding
• Covington
• Squire Patton Boggs
• Ropes & Gray

Only 7 law firms earn a place on the BTI Brand Elite for all 8 years we have ranked law firm brands. Please join me in congratulating:

 

• Skadden
• Jones Day
• Morgan Lewis
• Hogan Lovells
• Sidley
• Baker McKenzie
• Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

You can learn about the detailed changes in your firm’s brand and compare it to competitive law firms with your copy of BTI Brand Elite 2019: Client Perceptions of the Best-Branded Law Firms, available now.

BTI conducted more than 694 interviews with top legal decision makers to single out the law firms with the best and strongest brands. Each of the CLOs provided detailed answers and explanations—and have deep opinions about law firm brands.