New York Firm to Merge with a Magic Circle Firm?

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A Brief Lesson in Modern History—How Lateral Rules Were Rewritten

Everyone knew you couldn’t pull laterals out of the big NY firms—until Kirkland, Paul, Weiss, and a few others did. Quinn grabbed partners out of Skadden who have now been plucked out of Quinn by Dechert. The new rules are: every partner is fair game everywhere. The previously unheard practice of recruiting big NY firms' laterals to new firms is almost routine.

Up Next? Mergers

Most law firms merge to gain market access, new geographies, and new practices. Some of the mergers are financial rescues, but even most of these bring market access. Firms still see mergers as a vehicle to extend reach.

The global tie-ups offer the merging firms international market access. They expect to market to each other’s clients, cross-sell, and otherwise develop what they hope is a preferred or captive market.

Now it’s time to rewrite the law firm merger rules. Two new kinds of mergers are coming:

The Consolidation Mergers

Look for law firms to consolidate markets instead of extend reach. Every city (except major financial centers) has 2 large players—each of whom will claim market leadership. You will see these firms merge. These market leader mergers immediately create economies of scale and mega clients for the newly created firm—the kind of formula proven to deliver superior profits.

Yes there will be conflicts, but like all good mergers, these will be overcome.

The Rock Star Mergers

In 1998 Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand merged to become PwC. They were an instant powerhouse with a plan to dominate the largest 200 companies in the world. Rock star law firms will merge and change the entire competitive landscape. These mergers will look like:

There may be other rock star mergers with the same impact, but these mergers will make every other firm rethink their approach to business and life.

Preparing Yourself and Your Firm

We expect these mergers to happen in the current planning horizon. You can incorporate these events into your current thinking through scenario planning and answering the following questions during a leadership retreat:

  • What would, and could, we do when the 2 biggest competitor firms in our markets merged?
  • How would we protect our client base if a NY firm merged with a Magic Circle firm?
  • Even though we don’t take in laterals, who are the 5 laterals we would want—by name—if we suddenly change our minds?
  • What would be the ideal criteria for a lateral partner?
  • Even if we don’t want to merge, which firms would make the ideal merger partner to help grow clients and boost profits with the lowest risk?

You could ask more questions, but these will bring you to the heart of the matter. And will keep you plenty busy with strategic thinking.

To circle back to where we started—all the rules are being thrown out the window. New rules apply. A few firms will redefine the rules while others scramble. If you don’t want to redefine the rules, which most don’t, then be ready to act when others do—and you can still jump ahead for the future.


EY Circles Its Legal Prey as It Acquires Riverview

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Another move, another round of guessing. The Big 4 legal services question is no longer if and when—it’s how much and how fast.

How are the Big 4 going to make their law splash known? EY just took another step closer. More of a baby step than PwC setting up a Washington, DC office, but a step none the less. EY’s acquisition of Riverview Law expands EY’s presence in the managed legal services game—a market where they already supply services.

Not Performing as Well as Law Firms

Currently, corporate counsel and legal decision makers rate legal outsource providers a 7.7 out of 10 for overall experience. By contrast, a primary law firm—who provides the same services—earns an 8.7 out of 10 for their client experience. Law firms have an edge, and Alternative Legal Services Providers (ALSPs) still have an uphill battle. This is one place where EY can crush its competitors—the firm’s knowledge of and ability to deliver an exceptional client experience is a differentiating source of advantage.

EY also knows how to scale and leverage technology. This is where their real strength plays out. When and how EY invests to scale will be the event to watch. Otherwise, the Big 4 firm is just another player in an early stage market.

Managed legal services gives EY additional exposure to the GC’s office—a maneuver critically needed to make a full-scale move into legal. EY will use this acquisition to further develop relationships, better understand client needs, and develop client-by-client strategies to sell legal services. This is no different than what the best performing law firms do. Law firms lacking client-specific plans are immediately at risk.

A Wide-Open Market

In the US, only 60% of GC offices have been approached by ALSPs. BTI research shows 39% of corporate legal departments have tried an ALSP in some form. This leaves more than half the US market untested and untapped. This also suggests the ALSP who can scale their sales and marketing first will have a serious advantage—at least in the US.

The decision to use ALSPs in the US sits squarely with the GC. They may get a slight nudge or push to use an ALSP from a CFO—but, few will question the Chief Legal Officer on this one. The CLO owns the risk—they own the decision.

The EY acquisition is one more prod to law firms to rethink their game. They don’t want to leave doors open for the Big 4 by staying out of the managed services game. Law firms can partner with managed service providers or do it themselves. ElevateNext comes to mind as a team talking about this for a long time and consists of Elevate and the founders of Valorem Law Group. But, even the firms not doing anything would benefit from making a formal assessment and decision instead of passively opting out.

The only events which would dampen the Big 4’s encroachment into legal would be an accounting crisis like Sarbanes-Oxley or the loss of a large accounting firm. Both are in the highly unlikely category. The future is now. Baby step or not—the Big 4 are here.

This is a small excerpt from our upcoming report, BTI Innovation Review and Outlook: Corporate Counsel Rank Law Firms and Their Needs 2019, to be released in September 2018. BTI analyzes the ALSP market as well as client innovation and technology needs, and ranks law firm performance—by name.


(Based on more than 400 in-depth interviews with strategically selected top legal decision makers in the US at companies with $1 billion or more in revenue between November 2017 and July 2018.)

The 94 Law Firms Clients Recommend Most

Top legal decision makers have a time-honored code—they will recommend the law firms doing a much better job than anyone else. Even the most contentious competitors will share these recommendations for one simple reason—each one knows they could easily face a high-cost-of-failure circumstance—and want to know what the best options are. Their best and most reliable source of this law firm intelligence is the unprompted recommendation from a peer.

The peer-to-peer recommendation is serious business. Every recommendation is a personal statement about the type of provider—the commitment, service, quality, and demeanor—you are willing to entrust to a peer—from whom they would expect the same. We discuss this in more detail here. 

Why Recommendations Matter—Big Time

Your law firm’s recommendation rate—how often your clients recommend you to their peers in an unprompted manner—is one of the most powerful indicators of future growth potential and sustainable business development. More than half of corporate legal decision makers will hire a law firm based on a single, unprompted recommendation from a peer.

Only 15% of the law firms serving large clients earn this coveted recommendation. Please join us in congratulating the 5 law firms earning the absolute most unprompted recommendations:

In addition, please congratulate the following 10 firms who garner more unprompted recommendations than all other firms except the 5 above:

You can learn who the remaining 79 most recommended firms are by downloading our complimentary report BTI Most Recommended Law Firms: The Law firms Legal Decision Makers Recommend 2018.

Earning recommendations is no passing honor. Recommendation rates are one of the most powerful indicators of future growth potential—clients think highly of you—a real advantage when pitching or quietly developing business with your best clients. Learn about the drivers behind recommendations and why they are so powerful in our no-cost report or here.

Good luck.


93% of Clients Recommend a Law Firm—It’s Probably Not You

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Only 1 in 3 clients recommends their primary law firm to a peer. A level rivaling both last year and 15 years ago. The reason for the drop: clients expect more. Much more. In their minds, they are spending more money with outside counsel—mostly on complex matters. The complex matters demand more attention and increased levels of client service. Instead, here’s what clients tell us:

Clients have only recently started to spend more money with outside counsel—on mostly complex matters. They expect more attention and deeper understanding of their situations. And, they expect their primary law firm—as in the one who gets the most business—to deliver on every front—especially the sources of frustration listed above.

Peer-to-peer recommendations are the single most powerful source of new business for a law firm. Everything else pales in comparison. The main reason clients recommend a law firm—client service—is 61% of all reasons. This is nearly 5 times the next factor.

The law firms who manage to earn client recommendations are growing faster and booking new business at a lower cost of acquisition. This not only drives revenue—but drives profits.

GCs make these recommendations to each other in private conversations. These include one-on-one discussions, group meetings, conferences, and a host of formal and informal venues. Clients find it a hot topic—who is good. And they want names.

These are not the “will you vouch for me” recommendations. Unprompted recommendations happen when a GC offers a name, without any prompting or suggestion of who. This recommendation comes from the ongoing evaluation of all the law firms in GC’s mental roster. The firm with the best client service wins—whether they are primary or not.

Stay tuned—next week BTI is publishing the most recommended law firms—by name. See you then.


7 Questions to Ask Every Client Before August 15

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Let’s play word association.

I say: “July or August

You say: “Vacations, people out, summertime” 

Top legal officers say: “Next year’s budgets, end of year results, and adjust for the 2nd half of the year”

Large clients are thinking about next year’s budget right now. Many have submitted their first drafts to management. Your clients are learning how their company’s 4th quarter will play out—and any changes in plans/priorities which may result. They are integrating the unplanned events which popped up earlier this year while predicting surprises yet to come. All in addition to their day jobs.

This is your chance.

Engage your clients by asking questions and providing answers. Offer perspective on the budget trends you see at other clients—are they flat, headed up, or headed down? These insights are valued and hard to come by. Clients use your insight to manage their management and their budgets. Here are the questions we find most effective: 

1.       When do you submit your 2019 budget?
2.       Are you working on your 2019 budget? (If already submitted—how was it received, do you need to make any changes?)
3.       How is your budget performance looking for this year?
4.       What were the big surprises this year?
5.       What do you think they will be next year?  
6.       Are there any changes in management pressures or goals for the second half of the year?
7.       What can I do to help you meet your year-end goal?  

And maybe don’t ask the last question—act instead. Offer the following:

-        Help triage priorities for the year
-        A 2nd-year associate to help with leg work
-        Perspective on changes your clients are making to headcount, AFAs, technology, and training

The really bold can offer up some fixed fees for specified portions of your client’s caseload or work in the new year.

Summer is one of the best times to start locking in future work and help where clients need it now.


There's a Bull Market for Law Firm CMOs

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The market is ripe for law firms to up their marketing game.

Smaller firms, bigger firms, and global giants are all bringing on new marketing leaders. In the last 6 (or so) months alone, we’ve seen many notable changes in leadership:

This flurry of top-level turmoil can be credited to retirements, a drive for law firms to build more marketing muscle, people leaving for new opportunities, law firms setting new strategic directions, and a host of other factors.

Think for a minute. Almost ½ of law firm CMOs are on the road to burn out. Only 20% see themselves as trusted advisors to their firms and only 45% rate their jobs an 8 of 10 or higher. In short, a lot of talent is open to greener pastures.

So… How can law firms use this to their advantage?

Love the One You’re With: Double Down on Your Marketing Leadership

Up your support, listen more, listen better, and an occasional extra thank you never hurts. Include your CMO as a central figure in the firm’s strategic direction. Take the time to review the firm’s strategic vision, marketing & business development plans, and client-facing philosophies. Ask them for new ideas and thoughts about how to up the marketing and business development game—and give them the support to see their initiatives through.

Find Your True Love: Find the Best Performers Looking for More

When a potential new CMO walks through your door, tell them a compelling story—the firm’s vision and how you see marketing and business development playing a central role. Sharing your marketing and BD philosophy right away will tell you more about each other than any other conversation you have. Make sure everyone who meets your candidate can tell the story. Revisit priorities, even briefly, to be sure everyone in leadership is in sync with the role of marketing and business development. This shows your candidate they can make an impact, be respected, implement new programs, and see their contribution to the firm’s success.

And, your candidate knows you already. They’ve checked your firm out in Chambers, BTI reports, and talked with folks who have worked for you—they want to know your vision and how this role fits in, not about the firm’s history.

It should go without saying but treat your candidate well. Think of candidate service as a proxy for exactly what it will be like to work at the firm. CMOs tell me stories of firm management being late to interviews, partners taking phone calls during interviews, and no one ever saying thanks for coming in—even when the candidate travels from out of town.

To attract the best-in-class CMOs, offer a market-based salary. High performers believe their current pay plus a percent doesn’t speak to commitment or value—it speaks to offering enough to make a move. CMOs have a good sense of what the market will support. And, the top performers view themselves as being at the top of the market.

More than a few law firms are still on the hunt for a marketing leader. The candidate pool is strong. Look for more offers, more moves, and law firms with strong leaders making sure theirs don’t go.


New, Classic, Light, and Heavy Summer Reading—All with Lasting Lessons

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Summer reading can be a light or a serious read. I recommend a selection from each for summer reading—a light and short and maybe something longer when you are done. My selections include:

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Learn all about creativity and a great mind. See how a genius thinks about the world and thinks in general. See how he relentlessly pursues answers to satisfy his curiosity and how he procrastinates. Learn how he manages not to create boundaries to limit his thinking.

How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day by Michael J. Gelb

Mr. Gelb, who is also an excellent presenter, offers practical insight into being more creative and what holds us back. He suggests strategies such as focusing on questions instead of answers and how to eliminate the constraints of outcomes to encourage creative and more original thinking.

In the lighter category, I highly recommend a read or re-read of:

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D.

This highly readable book can be digested in an hour or so. 2 mice and 2 people deal with change, complacency, contentment, and the obstacles to change—presented as a story about the different approaches to the dwindling cheese supply. Amusing and thought-provoking, this book is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary. It spent 5 years on the New York Times best seller list.

And, a set of summer reading recommendations would not be complete without:

The Mad Clientist’s ABCs of Client Service by Michael Rynowecer

This fully illustrated book is a light-hearted look at a deadly serious skill: learning how to improve client service. The Mad Clientist distilled 14,000 in-depth interviews with top executives into 26 pithy, pointed actions for you to start using today. Spend just 26 minutes with The Mad Clientist and his ABCs of Client Service and improve your client service immediately.

Clientelligence: How Superior Client Relationships Fuel Growth and Profits by Michael Rynowecer

Learn how to drive growth and develop the best relationships with clients—based on in-depth research with 14,000 top decision makers who hire professional services firms. The decision makers point to 17 activities described within Clientelligence as driving superior client relationships, service, and new business.

Learn and enjoy.


Rainmakers Kicking Big Time Butt: Increase Their Books 4X Others


A typical rainmaker added just over $1 million to their existing book of business since 2015. This increase is way ahead of any industry growth or other market-based phenomena. And it is 4.5 times bigger than the average partner's increased bookings.


This performance comes from one thing—unrelenting focus on clients. They understand relationships are everything and don’t consider the possibility they won’t deliver. Their clients know when budgets will change in real time, and they exude confidence to be a “turn-over partner”—a client calls in the middle of the night, shares a crisis, and can then turn over and go back to sleep, confident their rainmaker has it covered.

7% of Rainmakers Hidden and Waiting to Be Found

BTI research shows only about 7% of all partners are rainmakers in the largest 600 law firms. By contrast, 86% of partners say they lack the skills to develop new business in a meaningful way. This leaves 7% unaccounted for—these are rainmakers-in-the-making. Find them in your firm. Cull them out. Train them. Give them tools, training, and most importantly—access to your most strategic clients—where they can really build a relationship—and new business.

Unleashing Your Hidden Rainmakers

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If you want to lose the 7% of up-and-comers, constrain them and don’t give them access to clients. Rainmakers and rainmakers-in-the-making hate to be constrained. They get their energy from clients—suppress the energy and you suppress the rain.

This 7% of up-and-comers are likely already high performers. But, they may not have the length of experience leadership typically expects. The risk of letting an up-and-comer loose on a strategic client is much less than the risk of keeping them from clients. Someone (think recruiter or another firm) will spot this talent and lure them away to the greener pastures of client access.

We realize this can mean hard decisions for law firms. What do to with your partner managing a strategic client but not booking new business? How to allow for more client-facing time and how to provide the infrastructure a rainmaker-in-the-making might need? And the advanced coaching, mentoring, and training up-and-comers crave. However hard the decisions, law firms will make them either passively through inaction or actively by preparing up-and-comers for outsized success. But the decisions need to be made.


Based on in-depth interviews BTI conducted with more than 160 law firm marketing leaders and 150 law firm partners between September 2016 and May 2017.

Where Law Firms Think They're Great, and Where They Ain't


The B players outperform the A players.

They are hungrier, want to make change and are ready to fight city hall (aka management), if need be. These law firm marketing leaders are focused on blocking and tackling issues such as: client service, client feedback, basic business development skills, client teams, and an occasional industry group.

This is from the results of more than 160 law firm marketing leaders’ self-assessment of 15 key areas of performance.

B Players are Building with the Basics

The B players are much harder on themselves—offering a self-ranking of 8 out of a possible 10. But, they sport the highest 3-year growth rate of all law firms, at just over 5%. It pays to be just a bit humble and focus on the basics.

A Players are Building Strategy before the Basics

The self-ranked A players show the slowest 3-year CAGR, at a 1.2%. The self-ranked top performers are focusing on the strategic. They are emphasizing legal prowess, technology, innovation, content marketing, industry groups, and collaboration—all important. But these programs rarely show results without training in the basics. These strategic programs are highly effective in attracting clients—but don’t turn into business unless partners can turn these leads into clients—using the basics which remain the focus of the B players above.

Doing What Works – the Self-Ranked 7s

Law firm marketing leaders ranking themselves 7 and below receive less institutional support than the self-ranked 8s, 9s, and 10s. The 7s put all their energy into getting programs, tactics, or a single effort in place—but they are making forward progress—at the 3-year CAGR of 4.3%.

These 7s are like the 8s—they focus on basics and building blocks. And don’t let go until their program is up and running—and working.

Influence by Osmosis

At a self-ranking of 6, the law firm marketing leaders are making an impact at the partner level. They may get a firmwide program or 2 off the ground (usually client feedback) and will use the feedback and their coaching skills to drive improvement and change. These CMOs take on the one-to-one relationships with the vested partners—and drive change with each one. The good news—the vested partners are typically the most interested in building client relationships and new business—so it’s well-placed leverage.

The self-ranked 6s deliver a CAGR of 2.8%.

The Disenfranchised

Ranking their firm’s performance at 5 or less—these CMOs are most likely to be in the market looking for a new gig—they try—but can’t get a lot of traction. They are pushing water up hill and want to make more progress. Usually, somewhere other than their current firm.

Few Areas of Greatness

Only 3 areas really stand out with a self-ranking of 10—with more than 20% of CMOs ranking themselves a 10—these are:

-        Cultivating Work from Existing Clients
-        Setting Strategic Direction
-        Providing Tools for BD

Conversely, more than 50% of CMOs rank their firms at 6 or lower in 4 areas: 

-        Partner Accountability
-        Using Metrics to Drive BD
-        Attracting New Marquee Clients
-        BD Training for Attorneys

You can see the full results of how CMOs rank their firms in each of the 15 activities by clicking here.

The best performers show a bit of humility and hunger. They show how mastering the basics beats the strategic at this stage of the market. But, it won’t always be this way. Business development is going to become a lot more difficult—and those firms who mastered the basics will be the first to really get benefits from a well-crafted strategy.


Based on in-depth interviews BTI conducted with more than 160 law firm marketing leaders between September 2016 and May 2017.

Clients Pay Their Highest Rates to These Law Firms–and They Are Worth It

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Clients are slimming down the list of firms to whom they pay their highest rate. This can help explain why the top rate hasn’t budged in 3 years—at a lofty $2,000 an hour. And, only 56% of clients say these firms are truly worth it.

Clients pay the highest rates when they need deep insight, understanding, and unflinching confidence in the ability to deliver. This presumes the firms bring unique knowledge and understanding of the risk. The following firms stand out above all others for: 1) Being identified as the firm clients pay the highest rate; 2) Clients sharing this high rate with BTI; and 3) The firm was well worth this highest rate.

The Highest of the High

The above firms are part of the BTI Client Service 30—the law firms clients single out for delivering the best client service.

Garnering Super-Premium Rates

The firms below also enjoy their clients’ highest rates—but not quite as high and not quite as many clients as the firms above. Please join us in congratulating:

Follow the Money

It is no coincidence one of the largest spending industries tops the list of highest rates paid. These rates are averages of the highest rate paid reported in each industry:

Life Sciences
High Tech
Professional Services
Consumer Goods
Financial Services



We live in a world where top legal decision makers are relentless in wringing maximum value out of their law firms. These firms are living proof of value being delivered at the very top of the rate spectrum. The firms who enjoy these rates gain their credibility by:

  • Dropping everything and showing up—or making it seem so
  • Showing up with piercing questions and a plan
  • Pivoting with ease—as in changing the plan when facts, circumstances, and/or goals change
  • Mobilizing quickly—and never discussing resource issues in front of their client
  • Bringing bigger teams on their matter—there IS safety in numbers—top dollar is not lean and mean
  • Being ready to talk budget right then and there
  • Speaking unequivocally in their thoughts and recommendations
  • Having one person clearly accountable
  • Exuding a certain calm

As more clients pay more law firms their highest rates, their expectations will soar along with these rates. As complex work grows, look for clients who want you to look high-rate ready—especially since more and more matters are morphing from complex to bet-the-company midstream. Every relationship partner can start adopting the top-rate behaviors at any time—this will give you practice for when the big day comes—and just might get you happier clients at premium rates.

You can see the list of all firms earning the highest rates in our newest report BTI Highest Rate Firms 2018. Order your complimentary copy here.


*Based on BTI research conducted between September 2017 and January 2018. BTI conducted more than 360 independent, individual interviews with top legal decision makers at large organizations with $1 billion or more in revenue.

Complacency Epidemic Hits Law Firms as Growth Returns

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Wishes do come true. Legal spending is up. The existential crisis is over. And, urgency is retreating as success is just a little easier to come by. One year of renewed growth is bringing complacency back to law firms.

Complacency Makes a Comeback

Complacency now stands as the number-one source of insomnia for law firm CMOs, at 24.9%*. This rate rivals 2005 complacency levels when demand started to exceed supply. The current number of complacent law firms has virtually doubled last year when it was 13.6%.  

These CMOs at complacent law firms see their firms happy about their new-found wealth but are unhappy and deeply concerned about their firm’s lack of action to make sure growth continues—or in some cases—returns.

The worry comes from 3 main complacency related threats:

          1. Prey for Aggressive Firms

The most aggressive firms are scooping up new business from complacent firm clients: Latham; Kirkland; Paul, Weiss; Greenberg Traurig; Quinn Emanuel; Dechert; Jones Day, and the rest of the BTI Business Development Badasses, who all are making big moves to carve out new business and not just ride the wave.

2. Failure to Engage

Most partners in the complacent firms have no real interest in client teams, client development, industry groups or other proven programs to build, strengthen, and keep client relationships. They don’t show up for training, don’t consult with the CMO on pitches except to make the PowerPoint, and otherwise keep their distance from marketing and business development.

3. No Strategy

These sleepless CMOs say their complacent firm has no strategy and doesn’t want one. The firms don’t engage in planning beyond the budget. Partners are largely left to define their plans with little specificity about how. They have no defensive strategy (keeping rainmakers, keeping clients) or offensive strategies (grow clients, target new clients).

Complacent firms are likely to be victims of both market changes and the more aggressive firms who are on the prowl for clients—and laterals.

By Contrast, Other CMOs Less Stressed than Last Year

Last year, almost half of all CMOs were on the road to burn out. Thankfully, this number is shrinking.

CMOs losing sleep over getting all the work done shrank to 20.69% from 25.3% last year. At the same time, more CMOs stay up worrying about performance—at 18.82% from 14.9%—suggesting a shift to more strategic initiatives.

Urgency Retreats While Success Creeps Back into the Market

Relentless and aggressive firms are using new demand to expand business with current clients and grab new ones. They are also spending more than ever on these efforts. All law firms, complacent or not, are off the aggressive firms – whether they want to or not.

Complacency just makes it easier for everyone else.


*Based on in-depth interviews BTI conducted with more than 160 law firm marketing leaders between September 2016 and May of 2017.

5 New Trends Point to Big Changes

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The ink isn’t quite dry yet on our most current research. But, we see clear signs of subtle change with big impacts. We just finished in-depth interviews with more than 300 top legal decision makers—here is what we are learning:

Complex Work is Morphing into Bet-The-Company Work Mid Matter

Matters starting out as complex are growing into bet-the-company matters. Top legal officers report the newly bestowed bet-the-company status is a direct result of increased financial exposure. Litigation matters start out contained—then grow and attract regulators, other plaintiffs, and a growing list of securities litigators if the company is public.

This trend is bad for clients but gives law firms real opportunity to join the exclusive bet-the company club for firms who are looking for entry. It is also causing serious damage to law firms who don’t realize they are now handling bet-the-company work.

Clients Have Less Patience than Ever

The value of a client’s time is increasing as the complexity of their matters remains at peak levels. Clients are spending more time managing risk and strategizing—leaving less time to track down attorneys, matter details, budget status, and other issues which steal precious time from your client’s main mission. And the more valuable a client’s time—the less they have for nonvalue-added tasks. Law firms are losing serious work because they don’t provide comprehensive and timely status reports. This reporting is just as important as the legal strategy.

Large firms are in their 4th year of outspending other law firms in client development—and keep winning more work than other firms.

Much is being made of the largest law firms growing much faster than other firms. 2018 marks the 4th year in a row these largest firms spend 1/3 more on client development than all other law firms. This is the reason they are winning so much new business—they have been spending more and working harder to get it.

Mid-size Firms Living Large in Mid-size M&A

Mid-size and smaller firms are carving out preferred relationships with the largest law firms to handle the small deals larger firms don’t find economical. The largest firms are all chasing large deals and private equity. It’s a great market with great clients. But these large firms can’t do small deals—and don’t want to. A clever group of mid-size firms, think 100 to 400 attorneys, are making a nice living developing preferred relationships to handle these smaller deals and service the daylights out of the clients and larger law firms.

This adds to the already established trend of mid-size firms having an especially strong position with non-US-based companies for making US-based acquisitions.

AFAs are Back

Client interest in AFAs is gaining new momentum as complex litigation grows faster than budgets are increasing—and is squeezing the routine work. Top legal officers are finding AFAs and settlements are 2 powerful tools to manage budgets and squeeze more litigation money out of the budget for the more expensive and complex matters.

Spot and Ride the Trends

The fast movers are grabbing clients while other law firms aren’t even looking as they take advantage of these trends. It is 1 the most effective tools to develop business and build enduring relationships.

Partners in a continuing dialogue with their clients are the first to learn these trends—clients will have shared them through words and behaviors. You can also predict and anticipate these trends through well-crafted and executed client feedback. Your chances of picking and using these trends to your advantage are directly linked to the frequency and depth of your client feedback. They are also linked to knowing exactly why clients bring you in and if the reason they bring you in changes. And, one thing is as sure as death and taxes—client needs will change.


Best of the Best in 5 Branding Factors and 14 Law Firms Boosting Their Already Strong Brand

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Only 1 strategy drives a better brand—making a better direct and indirect client experience in the 9 factors driving brand. This means leveraging strength and intentional branding while minimizing unintentional acts of branding.

Once law firms reach the BTI Brand Elite 28—it becomes exponentially harder to improve your brand. But 14 firms have figured it out. Each of the firms who manage to move up have different approaches focused on a common goal. They are focused on improving key parts of the client experience which have the most impact.

Please join me in congratulating the 14 firms who were able to increase their rank to get into or while in the BTI Brand Elite:

And, don’t miss out on the significant changes in the 5 other key branding factors clients rely on to separate one law firm from another, make hiring decisions, and pick and choose who they ultimately work with—and who they don’t:

Clients See a Few Law Firms Become Premium Worthy
More Bet-the-Company Work but Fewer Bet-the-Company Law Firms
Clients See More Law Firms Ready to Lead the Industry
Clients Shorten Short Lists
Fewer Law Firms Earning Client Recommendations

Learn how to earn premium worthy status, and keep it, in the new BTI Brand Elite 2018: Client Perceptions of the Best-Branded Law Firms, available now.

Clients See a Few Law Firms Become Premium Worthy

Clients pay you more when you bring more. They pay you premiums when you bring insight others don’t. Clients face more complex work and a greater quantity of it—making insights all the more valuable.

Clients single out 3 more law firms able to bring this premium insight—increasing the number of premium-worthy law firms by 3% over last year. However, none of the 2018 newcomers made Best of the Best, leaving the number unchanged from last year.

Please congratulate these premium-worthy firms:


Learn how to earn premium worthy status, and keep it, in the new BTI Brand Elite 2018: Client Perceptions of the Best-Branded Law Firms, available now.

More Bet-the-Company Work but Fewer Bet-the-Company Law Firms

Top legal decision makers report they have more bet-the-company work than ever, but the number of firms clients think can handle the pinnacle of all matters shrank by 11%. Client demand and expectations for this high-risk work are going up faster than supply—good news for those firms who can brand themselves as a bet-the-company firm. Please join us in congratulating the following firms with the best bet-the-company brands:


Learn more about why legal decision makers think fewer law firms are a sure bet in the new in the new BTI Brand Elite 2018: Client Perceptions of the Best-Branded Law Firms, available now.

Clients See More Law Firms Ready to Lead the Industry

Clients want to work with the firm who will be around to lead the industry. Top legal decision makers don’t want to work with law firms they think will get merged away or otherwise disappear. This is especially true for litigation which can last years. From a relationship standpoint, clients get concerned about conflicts, changes in command, and loss of institutional knowledge—so they want to work with the long-term leaders, almost as a risk management tool.

Top legal decision makers see 51 more law firms than last year as The Survivors. Please congratulate the following firms on their ability to convince the most demanding clients they will be last firm standing:

Learn more about the future market leaders—and how your firm can join them—in the new BTI Brand Elite 2018: Client Perceptions of the Best-Branded Law Firms, available now.

Clients Shorten Short Lists

Clients Shorten Short Lists

Everyone wants to at least be on the short list. But clients want no part of it—trimming their short lists by 1% this year and 22% over the last 3. Clients indicate they want more knowledge from fewer firms. They have cut their law firm rosters to record lows. Short lists were bound to follow this path. The firms who remain or regain their place are looking at bigger chunks of business.

We found 3 fewer Best of the Best and 7 fewer Leaders. Please join us in giving an especially hearty congratulations to the firms below who lead the pack in claiming their place on client short lists. The law firms enjoying a strong position on client Short Lists in the just-released BTI Brand Elite 2018 are: 

Learn how to secure—and continually defend—your position on client short lists in the new BTI Brand Elite 2018: Client Perceptions of the Best-Branded Law Firms, available now.

Fewer Law Firms Earning Client Recommendations

Top legal decision makers recommend 241 law firms, 19.7% fewer law firms for 2018, continuing a 3-year downtrend. The same decision makers recommended 345 law firms in 2015.

Clients are facing more complex work. They largely have lost patience for any law firms who don’t relish this work or who can’t keep within budget and keep them in up-to-the-minute news. 

Clients rely on peer-to-peer recommendations as their best source of learning about new law firms—meaning recommended firms have an edge. Please join us in congratulating the firms with the best branding in earning unprompted recommendations from top legal decision makers:


Learn exactly who is earning client recommendations—and why—and where you stand compared to everyone else in the new BTI Brand Elite 2018: Client Perceptions of the Best-Branded Law Firms, available now.

14 Firms Move Up in the BTI Brand Elite 28 for 2018

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Try as you might to manage, control, focus, and provide clarity—ultimately clients define your brand based on their experience with you. Law firm brands are volatile. Clients change their perceptions of law firms based on their direct and indirect experience.

Despite this, or perhaps because of these changes—clients identify 4 new law firms as part of the 2018 BTI Brand Elite 28—the law firms with brands 7 times stronger than all other law firms. 14 firms within the BTI Brand Elite moved up—all edging for the number-one spot—because they will get the most inbound referrals.

4 New Firms Join the 2018 BTI Brand Elite 28

Akin Gump, Paul Hastings, and Paul, Weiss make their debut appearances in the BTI Brand Elite 28 while Mayer Brown returns after a brief absence. Clients note an increase in client service and innovation at Akin Gump, Paul Hastings and Paul, Weiss. Clients credit increasing innovation from Mayer Brown for the return to the BTI Brand Elite 28.

Jones Day Takes the Top Brand

Top legal decision makers rank Jones Day as the strongest brand for the 2nd year in a row. The world’s most demanding clients rank Jones Day as Best of the Best in all 9 branding attributes. The firm has been able to continue to improve its client service, innovation, and can be relied on for the truly bet-the-company work. This is not a random set of events. Improving on an already best-in-class performance demands vision, a plan, implementation, commitment, and the will.

14 Firms Moved Up

Brands are more volatile than most people give them credit for, resulting in lost deals and lower rates. Despite this we are pleased to report half of the BTI Brand Elite 28 from 2017 moved up at least one place in 2018. The firms below demonstrated the behaviors behind the 9 factors driving brand hirability. Please congratulate the 28 law firms with the best brand according to the most demanding clients.


You can learn about the detailed changes in your firm’s brand with your copy of the BTI Brand Elite 2018: Client Perceptions of the Best-Branded Law Firms, available now.

Any change in client experience can easily change the brand. Some of these changes are strategic and intentional—others are the result of unintended branding events.

BTI conducted more than 686 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.


9 Differentiators Driving Your Brand, Hirability, and Rates

So many things brand your law firmsome intentional, some not. But, despite the plethora of actions and inactions your firm engages in every day9 rise to the top. These 9 branding attributes define your hirability, your brand, and your ability to garner premium rates.

9 factors are proven to break through the noise and elevate a firm’s brand and positioning with legal decision makers.

BTI draws on 18 years of primary research with top legal decision makers data to develop the framework for measuring your  brand imprint and hirability

We uncovered 9 key factors leaving the biggest brand imprint. Each of which defines how clients perceive a law firm’s performance and influences hiring. These fall into
3 groups: 

Client Experience

  • Recommended
  • Short-Listed

Premium Worthy 

  • Premium Worthy
  • Bet-the-Company
  • Survivors


  • Movers & Shakers
  • Tech-Savvy
  • Value Drivers
  • Client Service Strategists
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Stay tuned, next week BTI will release client rankings of law firms' brandsall based on these 9 client-driven factors in the BTI Brand Elite 2018. Don’t miss it.