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.


Brush Up Your Resume, Here Are the Best Jobs in the Future of Law

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Every law firm, every company has a tell. New positions at your firm tell the world so much about your strategic intent. You can tell if the firm is bold, passive, locked in the past, or unsure about the future—but everyone will know what story you’re telling with these positions, if they examine them closely.

New job titles are one of the most reliable indicators of real change. Bold new strategies create new responsibilities. They demand new skills and create original titles. If and when you start recruiting outside the firm, you are broadcasting your plan.

Keep a keen eye on new hires, new positions, and listen closer when your phone rings—it could be about one of these strategic leadership positions destined to change the future of law. And, it will change the nature of client relationships for the better, especially when the following positions appear:

Head of National Pursuits

Responsible for driving the success of large-scale, strategic pursuits, this role takes ownership of all activities from the moment a partner says, “I want this client” to the follow-up and ultimate win. The HNP assembles their business development team using resources from across the firm, sets the strategy, and shapes the story and the pitch. The HNP also can say no, if it looks like a prospect is not worth the firm’s time and effort to pursue.

The HNP is responsible for all pursuits over a certain threshold amount (in revenue or potential fees), and actively pursues potential clients from the firm’s strategic target list. The HNP cuts across all organizational boundaries to secure a win. The HNP mostly defines strategy and approach—but will pitch at the mega opportunities.

National Business Development Partners

These are the firm’s best business developers who are also practicing attorneys. Firms have reallocated their billable hour targets, so these partners spend more time on business development activities. These partners operate nationally and globally to win the most important clients. They work with the HNP and local partners but clearly take the lead on pitches, briefings, and front-line business development. This team includes rising stars as well as rainmakers—the primary qualification is a strong ability to quickly engage and educate clients.

Like the HNP, this team develops business with potential clients over a certain threshold amount in revenues or potential fees, or targeted clients from the strategic target list.

Vice Chair – Clients

Responsible for all client-facing activities, this senior leader ensures the firm puts clients first in all its systems, protocols, practices, and activities. The Vice Chair – Clients makes sure the firm’s relationship partners receive and promptly act on feedback. This includes feedback from the countless interviews the Vice Chair – Clients conducts, as well as 3rd-party objective feedback to add granularity and depth to firm-gathered feedback. This role requires strong analytical skills to translate the data into actions the firm can use to drive revenue growth.

This Vice Chair individual is also responsible for managing the firm’s most important clients—those who are so important they are “house accounts”—truly a firm client. These are the largest 50 to 200 clients and are managed by senior partners who report to the Vice Chair.

The Vice Chair also works with relationship partners to develop detailed strategic account plans, identify the best resources from across the firm, and provide training in the care, handling, and development of the firm’s largest and most important clients. (This training is often a template for client service training throughout the rest of the firm.)

Chief Digital Officer

Law firms can easily drown in digital opportunities. The Chief Digital Officer ensures their firm thrives and harnesses opportunities in a strategic manner. The CDO drives growth for a law firm by integrating digital strategies, tactics, and investments to ensure each activity supports the others. These strategies include internal processes, legal work, knowledge management, client-facing processes, and recruiting, at a minimum. The CDO evaluates, anticipates, and plans for new digital strategies to ensure the firm is always one step ahead.

Partner in Charge of Client Experience

Looking beyond client service, this partner ensures clients receive the appropriate attention between matters, after cases, and throughout all points from matter inception moving forward. Client experience includes planned interactions, education, and value-added touch points every partner can use to keep relationships growing—even during downtime. Expect this partner to provide tools and templates for discussion, coaching in continuing client conversations, and a roadmap of when to reach out to clients with what.

A key component of this role is working with the Vice Chair – Clients to obtain ongoing, measurable feedback from clients to ensure the clients have a consistently superior experience with their team.

Partner in Charge of Alliances and Teaming

Kirkland doesn’t want small matters. So, they are building a network of firms they can refer to their clients to send the smaller deals. This is informal now, but will evolve. Law firms looking to drive profitability with this highly strategic approach look to team up with alliance partners and collaborators in key practices where small matters are intermingled with large matters. This is a two-way street. Huge benefits can be had for referrers and referees.

The most successful law firms will pick the alliance partners in advance and develop a network where smooth and easy transitions are the norm.


AI in legal isn’t coming—it’s already here, and is creating new types of lawyers. These attorneys learn and develop AI/knowledge-mining tools. From making legal services more efficient to being able to predict legal issues before they arise, dātAttorneys merge law and technology to vastly improve the client experience.

Independent Board Member

You can count the number of law firms with independent board members on 1 hand, maybe 2, if you look hard. Independent directors provide objectivity and outside perspective. Law firms will start to embrace these independent directors as a source of strength—and will use them to help develop more robust strategic plans.

PwC added 2 independent directors to their Board in June 2017. They set the precedent for all other professional services firms.

These positions (or equivalents) already exist in almost every other profession. They not only exist—but are critical components of success. Law firms can let these positions evolve or map out the positions and dive in now. Those diving in now will set the benchmark for everyone else—and clients will be the first to note the difference.


Clients have 2 big sources of insomnia. Law firms only cause 1.

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Top legal officers are questioning themselves and their strategies. Something they don’t often do. And it’s keeping them up at night. The decision makers are unnerved by their law firms’ behavior—as they are now relying on their outside counsel more than ever before.

Almost 30% of corporate counsel are unnerved because of the following experiences with their primary law firms:

  • Partner turnover—lateral movement is making clients less confident in their firm’s ability to deliver without gaps and turnover. Clients are also concerned about the loss of institutional memory and the additional labor and elapsed time required to bring a new partner up to speed.
  • Partner retirements—clients know when key partners at their primary law firms are nearing retirement—but clients believe their firms just passively react to the departures and let things take their course. These clients believe there is no formal plan or thought as to how their matters will be managed going forward. This has the same negative impact as partner turnover.
  • Loss of associates—just as clients are getting to know associates working on their cases, these associates seem to disappear. Clients are fully aware of the high associate turnover rate—but believe their firms will be figuring out how to retain their best associates—which, of course, is any associate your client really likes.
  • No support—clients are discovering their law firms just want to do the work. These firms have no apparent interest in helping their client think through new issues, initiate and carry on conversations to help clients sort out their thoughts, and engage at a level beyond the scope of work. Clients believe this type of dialogue is not only helpful but also crucial to understanding client goals and sensitivities.
  • No team—many attorneys are doing the work, and clients don’t see 1 single attorney as being in charge or accountable. Clients perceive the finger pointing among partners when things don’t go according to plan as evasiveness.
  • Inconsistency—clients experience superstars, mediocrity, and embarrassments all from the same firm. These corporate counsel openly worry the performance will sink to the lowest level delivered.

Virtually each of these behaviors is fixable and unintended—but are on their way to ruining a client relationship just as clients have cut their law firm rosters to the smallest number ever and are ramping up spending with the firms who remain.

The 2nd biggest source of GC insomnia is making sure the work gets done. And done right. Clients are not convinced their law firms will deliver. GCs have stopped adding to staff and are experiencing attrition within their ranks. The search for the right formula prevents 13% from sleeping soundly.

General Counsel report litigation, increased transaction activity, data privacy, compliance, and cost control round out the sources of insomnia—but pale in comparison to the 2 above.

Every law firm and every partner can help clients sleep better. Be the partner who always delivers, never leaves a seed of doubt, and is proud to be accountable—even when things go wrong. Offer secondments and thoughts on how clients can prioritize their workload. Maybe even suggest a few strategies where you can help get things done. You can only be this partner if you are talking to your client. And, these ongoing conversations will help you, and your client, get the best sleep of all while others toss and turn.


(Based on BTI research conducted on a rolling basis between March 2017 and February 2018. BTI conducted more than 350 independent, individual interviews with CLOs and General Counsel at companies with $1 billion in revenue or more, each of whom responded.)

6 Killer Rules to Developing Business

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The best business developers play by different rules than everyone else. Some rules come naturally and others are learned. Aspiring rainmakers can learn from the best. BTI isolated rules which serve as guideposts for those who bring in the most business. These are the 6 rules for killer business development.


1.       Know your client

2.      If you don’t have a solution, stop

3.      Leave the sales pitch at home

4.      Link to business

5.      Every question matters

6.      Relationships are king

The best part of these 6 rules is almost anyone who wants to adopt them can. You can start with one—the one feeling most natural to you. Then add another, and another, until you get to the six. These rules will not only add to your business development prowess but also will add to your billable hours as well—how do you think the top rainmakers bill so much time?


The Mad Clientist: Shoveling Snow Unlocks Market Feedback for Start Up


Around the age of 8, I started to shovel snow to earn extra money in Lynbrook, NY, a suburb of New York City. I had 2 main competitors: my friend from across the street and another at the end of the block. We each charged $2 to $3 per house, and we all used the same strategy.

The natural marketing strategy was to leave the house and knock on doors to offer our services. We would visit the closest houses first and then fan out, skipping houses where there were kids our age. We made a good living for our age and kept ourselves in baseball cards and other essentials of the time.

As one particular storm was ending, I decided to change my strategy. I went out early and could see I was the first one out. I skipped my own house and walked 3 blocks away before I started knocking on doors. I started with Marjorie’s house, named for the high-school girl who lived there. Marjorie’s mom answered the door and promptly hired me.

I went to work and tried to do an especially good job. I am not sure of the reason, but I was pumped. I shoveled the entire length and width of the 20-foot long sidewalk. I shoveled outside the decorative rails going up the steps as well as the inside where people walked.

I finished the job, promptly ringing the doorbell. I received a nice thank you and compliment. Marjorie’s mom also handed me a crisp 5-dollar bill and told me to keep the change. I was in heaven. This was serious money.

I went away trying to spot more homes who would pay premiums, wondering why they would. I changed my whole approach with the next snow storm.

I made sure I would get to Marjorie’s house first, even before shoveling my own walk. I worked the outer fringes of the neighborhood first instead of treating my home as the starting point. I kept a list of the people who tipped and paid premiums. One customer asked me if I would take on shoveling their snow for the entire winter – my first long-term contract. I offered this same arrangement to other premium payers who all agreed.

I shoveled snow until the age of 14, when I was living in Poughkeepsie, NY –  where there was a lot more snow than in Lynbrook. This extra snow, and 6 years of experience, brought another realization: I was better off paying a neighborhood kid to shovel my own driveway while I was out getting paid for 2 to 3 shoveling jobs, instead of performing a non-revenue assignment.

I quit the snow shoveling business and found other ways to make money. I look back and think about how much guidance I got from my clients and the market itself, much as I do today. I am a bit of proud of the idea of hiring someone to shovel my own driveway to leverage my time. And every time a storm hits in the western suburbs of Boston where I live, I am reminded how much can be learned by listening to your clients.


Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference - New Orleans

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The Legal Marketing Association’s annual meeting is always a great conference and a valuable learning experience. BTI Principal, Jennifer Dezso, will be attending and presenting a not to be missed session for firms targeting new business from existing clients. Wednesday, April 11, 3:30 – 4:30

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The Best Source of New Work — Training Your Attorneys to Use Everyday Client Interactions and Informal Client Feedback to Develop More Business

Did you realize 80 percent of your firm’s future profits will likely come from existing clients? Your attorneys are on the frontlines of driving this business development opportunity. But, BTI’s latest research shows 86 percent of attorneys think their approach to business development is not aggressive enough to win new work from clients.

The primary obstacle is not knowing how to talk to clients outside the context of current work in order to build ongoing business and cultivate bigger relationships. This interactive, train-the-trainer session will teach you how to get your partners comfortable talking shop with clients as a gateway to winning new work. You’ll leave with an agenda and discussion guide to share with your attorneys.

Topics include:

  • Five ways attorneys can develop business without having to “sell”
  • How attorneys can adopt a comfortable communication style to transition from formal matter communications to informal conversations with clients
  • Six questions attorneys should be asking about their client’s business and how to use the answers to identify new opportunities
  • How to lead a post-matter meeting and fill your business pipeline at the same time

How BTI Client Service All-Stars Outperform Everyone Else

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It’s not just one thing. It’s everything—the total package.

The BTI Client Service All-Stars deliver better client service than everyone else. Their secret? They care about all things and everything client facing. For the first time, clients note total client experience as one of the top traits separating a BTI Client Service All-Star from the rest. The All-Stars are delivering a superior end-to-end experience, and this will set the new standard moving forward.

Clients single out the following practices, protocols, behaviors, and interactions separating their BTI Client Service All-Star from all others: 

  • Using both formal and informal communications to keep a continuing stream of dialog around legal and non-legal issues.
  • Advising clients on budgets and deadlines—before clients ask.
  • Talking about how to improve their performance.
  • Cutting to the chase.
  • Posing and answering billing questions—before clients ask.
  • Knowing and behaving as though there is a continuing stream of needs and business.
  • Writing RFPs for clients who are forced to put work out to bid.
  • Helping with things outside of clients’ legal work (managing bosses, career counsel, helping with personal and family matters).
  • Making themselves accessible—even when they are not.
  • Communicating new insights in a manner which makes clients feel special, like they are the first to be learning.
  • Sharing new ideas, thoughts, and insights and asking clients for their opinions.
  • Invoicing on a timely basis.
  • Educating themselves about clients’ business on a frequent, regular, and systematic basis, and discussing this insight with clients. They also build this insight into their legal counsel.
  • Using assistants and associates to ensure clients know their whereabouts and the status of deliverables.
  • Designing and sharing back-up communication plans to manage communication when they are hard to reach.

Don’t worry about delivering on all these actions. Start with a few. Even a couple is fine. But start if you haven’t—and add more once you work these into your normal routine. The more you add the easier these behaviors become. And, they not only get easier—they create more billable hours and boost productivity. You become more efficient, create demand for you and your firm, and deliver world-class client service—the trifecta of developing new and continuing business.


(Based on BTI research conducted on a rolling basis between February 2017 and January 2018. BTI conducted more than 350 independent, individual interviews with top legal decision makers at large organizations with $1 billion or more in revenue.)

Clients Single Out 326 Attorneys for Superior Client Service

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326 attorneys master the art of superior client service.

In the eyes of clients, these attorneys are unsurpassed in the client service arena. These are the BTI Client Service All-Stars 2018. This report honors the individuals able to stand out in the sea of legal services providers to represent the cream of the crop.

Corporate counsel single out each attorney—by name and in an unprompted manner—as delivering the absolute best client service. No attorney or firm can self-nominate, self-refer, nor pay to be included in this report. Clients have the final—and only—say.

This year’s Client Service All-Star lineup is especially strong. We note 6 associates standing out for superior client service—an enormous accomplishment, and advantage, for each of the 6 as they move forward in their careers.

One attorney has been named a BTI Client Service All-Star for a stunning 15 years:

H. Rodgin Cohen, Senior Chairman
Sullivan & Cromwell

Consecutive Years:

5 Years
Tracy E. Kern, Partner
Jones Walker
E. Joshua Rosenkranz, Partner

4 Years
John T. Baecher, Partner
Norton Rose Fulbright
Stephen I. Glover, Partner
Gibson Dunn
Kirk T. May, Founding Shareholder
German May

3 Years
Edward D. Herlihy, Partner
Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
Gregg M. Lemley, Shareholder
Ogletree Deakins
Randi C. Lesnick, Partner
Jones Day
Jennifer R. Mewaldt, Partner
Faegre Baker Daniels


2 Years
Ron Chapman, Jr., Shareholder
Ogletree Deakins
A. Craig Cleland, Shareholder
Ogletree Deakins
Gregory Carl Cook, Partner
Balch & Bingham
William Donovan, Jr., Partner
Paula J. Morency, Partner
Schiff Hardin
Jonathan M. Moses, Partner
Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
Richard R. Patch, Partner
Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass
Rick Richmond, Managing Partner, Los Angeles
Jenner & Block


Super All-Stars—Attorneys Named by Multiple Clients This Year:

Anthony Alden, Partner
Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan
Alan W. Beloff, Senior Counsel
Morgan Lewis
David K. Callahan, Partner
Latham & Watkins

Jonathan L. Corsico, Partner
Gibson Dunn
Sean C. Feller, Partner
Gibson Dunn
Frank Layson, Partner
DLA Piper

Cultivating Firmwide Success
Only 13 law firms are home to 5 or more BTI Client Service All-Stars. These firms account for 92 BTI Client Service All-Stars—suggesting a culture of client service permeates each organization. These 13 firms are:

Jones Day 16 – a new record
Gibson Dunn – 11
DLA Piper – 9
Arnold & Porter – 7
Latham & Watkins – 7
Ogletree Deakins – 6
Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz – 6

Cooley – 5
Morgan Lewis – 5
Polsinelli – 5
Seyfarth Shaw - 5
Sullivan & Cromwell – 5
Williams & Connolly – 5

8 of these 13 law firms are also singled out by clients in the BTI Client Service A-Team 2018, appearing on this year’s BTI Client Service 30.

We congratulate each and every BTI Client Service All-Star. They continue to exceed clients’ ever-rising expectations, as measured by the most demanding clients. Click here to see every attorney we celebrate for client service excellence as measured by clients—the sole and final judge.


The 17 BTI Business Development Badasses

Business development is turning law firms into hawks and doves. The hawks seek out the clients they want. They invest more time and thought into winning and have a strict go/no go policy for RFPs. The hawks show up more prepared than anyone one else and way more than clients expected. More than competitors expected, too.

13% of law firm leadership partners characterize their firm’s business development as aggressive. This means 87% don’t; they are BD doves. Some doves will turn into hawks. And some will rise above the hawks and become the Business Development Badasses who rule the world of acquiring new business.

We asked more than 150 law firm leadership partners, including the self-proclaimed hawks, who is at the pinnacle of being strategically aggressive—these are the firms to beat to win at business development.

These 17 firms are today’s BTI Business Development Badasses:


•       Davis Polk
•       Dechert
•       Fish & Richardson
•       Fried Frank
•       Honigman
•       Jackson Lewis
•       Jones Day
•       King & Spalding
•       Kirkland & Ellis

•       Latham & Watkins
•       Lowenstein Sandler
•       Mayer Brown
•       Morgan Lewis
•       Paul, Weiss
•       Quinn Emanuel
•       Skadden
•       White & Case

These firms go deep—bringing strategy, knowledge, and resources to bear. They think in terms of proposing teams with the right skills and chemistry. The BTI Business Development Badasses communicate with clients early and often, blatantly ignoring the rules about not contacting clients before the pitch. They follow up with thoughtful, targeted information based on these communications.

The best of this group start an informal dialogue—as if they have already won the client. An approach worth adopting no matter how aggressive you are.

It has never been more difficult to keep existing clients and acquire new clients. And it will only get harder from here. This will make the difference between the hawks, the doves, and the Business Development Badasses so important.


(This research is based on more than 150 independent, individual interviews with leading law firm leadership between June 2017 and January 2018.)

Marketing Budgets per Attorney Jump Nearly 11%

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Budgets may not be going up as a percentage of revenue, but per capita spending is. CMOs have been both clever and skilled in managing their budgets. Overall, increases in revenue are slightly outpacing increases in attorney headcount. Most CMOs have been able to keep their budgets untouched. This means the Marketing and Business Development (MBD) Budget per Attorney increases—in effect, resulting in an increase on a per capita basis. This is the most reliable indicator of MBD spend. 

The average law firm spent $18.9 thousand per attorney on MBD in 2017, up from $17 thousand in 2016. But, spending is no longer the main story. As legal marketing budgets as a percent of revenue converge around the 2.6% mark across firms—how the money gets spent has more impact.

CMOs continue to adjust budgets to drive revenue. Legal marketing tactics and strategies can now drive success—giving CMOs and marketing departments more visibility, more impact, and more voice. This is what many CMOs have been waiting for.


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(Based on BTI research conducted between June 2017 and December 2017. BTI conducted more than 160 independent, individual interviews with leading legal marketing executives at a range of law firms from Am Law 30 to Am Law 200.)

7 Unintended Branding Events to Stymie Any Brand Strategy

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Law firms have at least 2 branding initiatives at any single point in time. One is carefully planned, orchestrated, researched, and measured to determine its success. The other is far less formal. It occurs as interactions between the individuals at your firm and people outside the firm—namely clients and potential clients. This informal branding leaves a larger and much more lasting imprint than your formal initiatives.

The good and the bad news is the interactions between your firm and the rest of the world are almost limitless. But of this plethora of interactions, our research shows 7 stand out with much more impact than all the others:

Scope Changes

Inevitable scope changes either destroy or boost your brand. They are never neutral. The firms actively discussing scope changes with clients on a real-time basis look good and make their client look good. Your client can announce changes to their internal stakeholders well in advance of completion and look like they are in control and know where things are headed. Clients brand these proactive firms as being on top of their plan, strategy, and able to adapt on the fly.

Clients remark the firms not reporting the impact of scope changes on a timely basis are just not client focused and/or not thinking about their matters strategically. Neither is likely to get you more business.

How You Treat Your Client in the Courtroom or Negotiations in Front of the Other Side

Top legal decision makers tell us they learn so much about firms by watching them in the courtroom, negotiating deals, dealing with regulators, or in action somewhere. They watch the legal strategy unfold, but are equally mindful of how these attorneys treat their clients. Some describe opposing attorneys as heavy handed and dogmatic while others envy how the other side behaves. Equal numbers of corporate counsel make the decision either to hire the other side the next time out or to never use them based on what they see during a live performance.

Your Pitch

Clients believe they are seeing you at your best. Whatever you present, say, and do brands you forever, or at least for a very long time. This is the ultimate direct experience. Clients presume the insight you bring during the pitch will be the level they can expect during your work together. The look and feel of your presentation, the level of interactivity, the level of teamwork, the specificity you bring, and the ease with which you move through the pitch set the expectation—and to a large extent—tell clients what your firm is worth.

Your Final Invoice

The one document every single client reads. Whether or not you’ve discussed it in advance, clients always have a figure in mind of what your services will cost. They expect your invoice to be reflective of their expectations and expect it to be concise. The minute your final invoice includes any billings your client doesn’t already know about, the negative branding begins. Your final invoice represents the culmination of your strategy, planning, and ability to execute the plan.

When your invoice doesn’t match the client’s expectations, clients immediately know this is about surprise charges, untold changes in scope, impacts of unplanned events, or changes in fact and circumstance. If your client learns any of these things through the invoice and not in a conversation with you at the time of the change, they will label your firm as unreliable. To clients, their budget is just as important as the outcome.

The budget is one of the items which clients report to others outside the department. When clients have to explain budget overruns to their boss—or worse, the Board—they look bad in front of the people who matter most. The firms making them look bad are branded forever.

And if your client never brings up the budget, remember: Every client has a budget, even when they have no budget at all.

Your Voicemail Message

Clients believe your voicemail message speaks volumes about your approach to client service and individual clients. Clients want to know when you will be back and when you will be answering calls. They also want a reference to someone they can reach for immediate needs.

Top legal decision makers take note of the attorneys who are silent about when they will return; the messages just saying “leave a message,” and those saying they will “reply at their earliest convenience.” Clients brand these attorneys as those not to call with important and time-sensitive matters.

Your Email Signature

Clients want to be able to reach you when they want. All things being equal, which they often are, convenient access to your email and phone are surprisingly essential. This is especially true for questions about new issues and when your client wants to brainstorm or is looking for an opinion. These are the conversations which lead to new work. Be sure to include your email, direct office number, and cell phone in every email (and reply email) to clients.

Asking for Meaningful Client Feedback

Law firms seeking client feedback are still in the minority. This applies to the hardcore feedback which clients believe is so important to improving performance—and to making their own life easier. The law firms conducting world-class client feedback interviews where clients learn something about themselves and you learn how to improve, differentiate themselves from other firms.

You can turn unintended branding into a positive brand differentiator for your firm by exercising the same diligence as you do to intentional branding initiatives. Embracing the tools like scripts for voicemails, templates for email signatures, hardcore training for client-focused pitches, and measuring how quickly you tell clients about scope changes will all harness the power of unintentional branding. You will not enjoy a stronger and more unified brand—you will stop unintentional branding from standing in the way of winning the next piece of new work.


Anatomy of a Client Development Plan

20% of clients will drive 80% of your firm's financials. BTI Principal Jennifer Dezso shares how focusing on developing a comprehensive file on your star clients helps better manage your future business development efforts.

You can view the video by clicking the image below, or on YouTube directly here:

With this series we’ll be taking an in-depth look at a wide range of client relationship best practices. We’ll be releasing Client Relationship Lab webisodes on our blog every month—subscribe today (in the box at the upper right of your screen) and be sure you don't miss a single one.

Clients Shatter 2 Records Helping Latham Shatter $3 Billion in Revenue

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Clients are on pace in 2018 to record levels for spending the largest amount ever on outside counsel. At the same time, they rely on fewer law firms than ever.

Latham, which has just posted the highest revenue of any law firm, has been following and using these shifting client and market trends to its advantage for more than 10 years—it’s one reason Latham’s growth is in overdrive. 

Latham’s unprecedented growth is turbocharged by the firm understanding why clients are consolidating their work and then positioning the firm to pick up major chunks of new business with existing clients by delivering what clients are seeking.

Latham’s winning approach? Adopt the ‘provide-the-best-value’ approach, not the low-cost provider approach—and clearly this tactic is working.

This strategy becomes clear once you understand why clients are consolidating work.  

Improving Risk Management

The current round of consolidation is all about risk management and adding value. Clients have been cutting their law firms in an especially aggressive manner—dropping more than 19% of their firms over the last 3 years. On average, clients now have a record low 34 law firms on their panel, down from 42 firms in 2015. Clients’ goals with consolidation are to:

  • Streamline outside counsel management
  • Stop working with firms not adding measurable value
  • Have law firms build institutional knowledge about the company
  • Develop uniform understanding of their preferences among their law firms
  • Create uniform understanding around the risks they face

It’s Not About the Fees

Cutting your fees won’t keep you on the roster anymore. What clients are looking for most in their panel firms is: 

  • Knowledge about their specific risks and exposures
  • Vehicles to share and discuss this knowledge
  • Candor—how can they do things better and smarter
  • Tools—budget/progress dashboards and other tools where key information is now on-demand
  • Education on issues they need to know—going well beyond e-alerts

These criteria have big implications for how to develop big client relationships: 

  • Clients teams who don’t offer client-specific education programs will miss a major opportunity to upgrade the relationship. 
  • Play an active role in helping clients streamline their legal operations. 
  • Use client feedback to learn what tools clients have, what they want, and then give them more. 
  • Always be in an informal discussion with your client. Informal discussion provides the context for the formal requests— giving you knowledge no one else has, and you will learn about new needs before anyone else, too.
  • Offer to perform the work you know is coming down the pike—don’t wait for it.
  • Stick it out. Client growth is anything but linear. It will take more time to develop than you expect—and will then grow faster than you expect.

Clients have never been more serious about using their law firms in a more clever way. The market is still ripe for firms to execute this low-risk/high-return strategy, but success demands commitment, training, tools, and embracing the art and science of pulling all the pieces together to make it sing. Latham serves as highly visible proof of this concept. What more evidence do you need? 

BTI has helped some of the most successful firms in the world develop client growth plans. We would be happy to answer questions or discuss your approach.      


(Based on BTI research conducted on a rolling basis between February 2017 and December 2017. BTI conducted more than 350 independent, individual interviews with CLOs and General Counsel at Fortune 1000 companies and large organizations)

Forget AI, Fred Flintstone Has a Big BD Lesson for Law Firms

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Fred Flintstone lived in a time when the concept of modern counting for tallying and tracking was coming into widespread use. As Big Data and AI try to muscle their way into law firms—you can still rely on a few Stone Age tools to reliably develop business and keep more clients.

Counting clients and their billings annually is a simple, important, and woefully underutilized business development tool, especially this time of year. Go count how many top clients you have this year—and compare this list to last year—name by name, billings to billings. Perform this analysis on your top 50 to 200 clients. If you’re brave, perform this analysis for each of the last 3 to 5 years—where some of our clients found a gold mine of new work.

Any top client who shrank to become a regular client deserves immediate attention, as does any client where billings shrank at all. It doesn’t matter how much they shrank—nothing good ever comes from shrinking fees.

Immediately investigate and learn exactly why these clients dropped down the list. Don’t be fooled by the premise of “one and done” or “the case ended.” There is always a reason. Clients have ongoing needs and ongoing spending—and they keep using law firms on a regular basis. This just-lost source of business is fertile ground for client and business development. Client feedback is invaluable with these clients.

This client retention and measurement calculation is your roadmap for landing new business right now. Go and develop clients where your relationships are still warm. Your clients just may be wondering why no one from your firm ever followed up after the last engagement.

BTI research shows only 48% of law firms calculated any kind of client retention rate in 2017, up from 40% 3 years ago. The typical law firm calculating its top client retention rate kept 85% of their clients on a year-over-year basis, up from 80% 4 years ago. The increased retention alone can be worth $30 million dollars in new revenue at an Am Law 200 firm—and the same proportionate gain applies to smaller firms.

For my money, I would stop or postpone another project and calculate my firm’s client retention rate for the top 50 clients, at least. I would look at 3 factors:

  • Changes in billings, year over year
  • Rank in the top 50, year over year
  • 3-year compound growth rate in billings

The numbers will tell the rest of the story. And define your path.

All you need to do is reinvigorate 1 major client and even the most skeptical partners will be inclined to shout: “Yabba dabba doo!”


(This research is based on interviews with more than 180 law firm marketing leaders conducted over the last 12 months.)