1 Big Bad Boogeyman Adds to 3 Other Nightmares Keeping GCs Up at Night

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I have never heard a top legal decision maker talk about being blindsided in my 30 years of talking to clients—until now.

100s of top legal officers echo this same sentiment and suffer loss of sleep as a result.

Being Blindsided

Top legal decision makers are typically thorough, thoughtful, and forward-looking.  They aren’t comfortable with the unknown—and now, clients say, the chance of being blindsided is lurking around every corner.  

Uncertainty is at an all-time high (as we discussed in our Mid-Year Market Update 2019 Webinar last week); meaning the threat of the unknown is more serious than ever. Problems can pop up anytime and anywhere. Issues are unpredictable—and this is precisely why it causes insomnia for General Counsel.

This is an open invitation for law firms to reach out to their clients to engage in strategic planning, provide systematic risk identification, develop risk assessment tools, and conduct scenario planning sessions. The law firm able to help their clients look around the corner to avoid being blindsided will help clients sleep—and likely get the first call when the unexpected occurs.

Top legal officers tell us being blindsided is only one main source of insomnia—other concerns bring their own set of surprises and consequences. These are all issues clients want to have their preferred law firms in place for:

Cybersecurity/Data Privacy

The state-sponsored Marriott data breach, GDPR, new California regulations, and the intense scrutiny of privacy in the tech industry form the perfect storm making Cybersecurity/Data Privacy the second biggest source of client insomnia. Any breach brings legal issues, regulatory scrutiny, potential Board exposure, and can be quickly followed by securities fraud and class actions.

In short, it’s messy and ugly. Clients believe they won’t really and truly know if they can rely on their law firms until the dreaded moment comes. This is why Cybersecurity/Data Privacy is a top source of insomnia in 3 of the last 4 years.

Clients judge their law firm’s reliability for big things by the little things.  After all, if you take care of the little stuff, there is a better chance you will take care of the big stuff.  This is one of the reasons why small things like slow response to emails and questions, billing surprises, shoddy work, and the lack of informal dialogue have such an out-sized impact on getting the big work.

Regulatory Issues

So many regulations, so many interpretations and reinterpretations.  Top legal decision makers believe they are faced with a hostile regulatory environment where yesterday’s compliance is today’s violations. They see the rules being reinterpreted and reapplied. This results in cost, bad PR, workforce issues, and a host of other time-consuming impacts.  Clients tell us they see so many regulatory questions and potential issues they find it difficult to prioritize, develop a plan, and don’t know where the next question is coming from. With stakes much higher than they have ever been—regulatory issues are a recurring source of client insomnia for the 5th time in 6 years.

Clients value law firms able to offer counselling and access to specialists in their industry or relevant agency. They want a sense of what to worry about and what to do. These will likely be small matters to start—which many firms eschew—but these small high-octane conversations are the magnet attracting the big matters to come.

Workload

Complex needs may be surging, but budgets and headcount are not. The workload is growing as management makes more inquiries than ever. The average legal department has 2 fewer full-time attorneys on their staff than just 2 years ago. Internal staff is shrinking as risk and complexity soars. These diametrically opposed trends make getting the work done a source of insomnia for the 2nd year in a row.

Law firms can jump in and help prioritize the work. Clients love a good secondment—and it embeds you in a client’s culture. There is always the risk clients will steal your prized associate—but the upside is so high—it just might be worth the risk.

Attrition/Staffing

Top legal decision makers are watching key people on their staff retire and be recruited to law firms.  The cycle is now complete—corporate counsel started recruiting law firm partners just after the financial crisis when law firm demand was less robust. Now, law firms are doing the recruiting—the firms want industry experience, client-centric attorneys, and someone who can help teach other partners what it is really like on the inside.

You can help your clients by passing along friends or open positions at clients, offer help in evaluating candidates, and help clients with succession planning. Each of these steps brings the added bonus of befriending the very people who may be hiring you down the road.

Take the chart below, or issues in the chart below, and discuss them with your clients. Go over every item and see where your clients think they stand. You will get an education about how your clients think about their world, and walk away with more trust, more value, and new business. 

MBR