A top legal officer at a Fortune 50 company shared the following with me during a feedback interview:
“I called my law firm, the one I have spent the most money with for years, with a cybersecurity question. My partner told me the firm had just issued an email alert on the topic. Frankly, I expected an offer to meet with the former top government official the firm brought into the practice—which was not forthcoming.”
“This just took the wind right out of my sails,” she went on. “I ended up asking my partner to arrange for a meeting with the new lateral partner but was so disappointed my partner didn’t offer it up. He just wasn’t thinking in a personal way. In my view, he took the lazy route. I was completely unnerved because if this is the attitude he has in my litigation, I am in deep trouble.”
Clients Want to Believe You Will Deliver
Clients turn to their law firms for help. Not just any law firm—but their primary and major law firms—the ones who have the most to gain and the most invested in the relationship. The client service opportunity is there for a primary law firm to lose. And lose they do.
Top legal officers only recommended 32.7% of their primary law firms to a peer in an unprompted manner in 2016, down from 40.1% the year before.* The biggest reason for the drop is their law firms’ inability to, or in some cases a decision not to, help with the new and pressing issues. To be fair, no law firm actually says “I’m not interested in helping you.” But their behavior does.
The challenge in earning your clients’ unprompted recommendation to a peer lies in anticipating needs, educating clients, and acting before clients ask. This is not limited to the big, rock-my-world issues. Clients wonder why their top law firms don’t offer up a budget before being asked, share staffing plans, or offer to introduce new high‑profile laterals. Clients especially wonder why they weren’t offered a customized CLE session like their peer got from their law firm.
Most law firms don’t approach clients to discuss the new complex matters dominating clients’ thoughts. These firms are passively screaming they don’t care—at least not as much as one of the 36 other law firms with whom your clients work.
The solution to these passive behaviors is to engage with clients and think at least 3 steps ahead. Ask your clients what concerns them and when clients ask questions, think of the most forward-looking response.
Regaining the Client Service Upper Hand
A BTI client learned through client feedback they were viewed as one of the passive firms above. This firm took a group of senior partners and asked them to list all major client inquiries and questions for the next 4 months. After the time was up, the group reviewed the client questions and suggested responses and actions which they thought would exceed client expectations. Interestingly, all the partners could suggest vast improvements on the other partners’ responses. So, they knew what to do but could not apply it to their own behaviors. The answer lies in training ourselves to always improve and ask: How can I make my action/response/suggestion/interaction better? Better than all others.
*Based on in-depth BTI research conducted on a rolling basis between February 2016 and August 2016. BTI conducted more than 330 independent, individual interviews with CLOs and General Counsel at Fortune 1000 companies and large organizations, as well as 200 interviews with law firm leaders.