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

Insomnia Blog Size.png

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.

MBR

(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.)

CLOs to Law Firms: Fix Your Client Service or We’re Leaving

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.

MBR

*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.

Why New Work Goes to Other Law Firms and Not to You

BTI Average Number of Law Firms Used 2017.png

CLOs, and their in-house teams, now work with 37 law firms in total—down from 42 in 2015*. This is the 3rd smallest law firm roster clients have used in 16 years. Not only have clients cut 5 firms entirely, they have also replaced another 3.

This is a stark reminder of how competitive life is at large clients. You face at least 26 potential competitors—if not more—at virtually every single client. In the middle market with smaller clients, BTI research shows these decision makers using 9 law firms on their roster—down from 12 firms a short 2 years ago.

Every time you interact with your client—whether you deliver a document, answer a question, return a call—your client compares what you do to one of these other firms. Competition—and the client service separating one law firm from another—does not hit harder than this.

Clients Auditioning New Law Firms

This pattern where clients are replacing firms can only mean one thing: clients are auditioning new law firms for substantive work. This alone is a warning to all law firms—your client has someone in the wings who may just be your understudy.

Clients are making these changes because they are not getting what they want from their current law firms. In some cases clients’ needs change. For example—bet-the-company work has quadrupled over the last 3 years, clients are experiencing bigger class actions, and labor and employment keep growing—not to mention the surge in cybersecurity. Any firm who fails to educate clients about how they can help with these new matters is not considered for the new work—as the most aggressive firms are educating clients before a need arises.

Law firms are often blindsided by client changes in their law firm rosters. Most firms neither conduct client feedback nor track the billing trends. In addition, the “one and done” attitude among lawyers is so pervasive they think it is normal for work to tail off—despite client’s annual budgets ranging from $10 million to hundreds of millions of dollars.

You have 2 strategic options: give up or make this a business development opportunity. Ask clients their goals in reducing their law firm ranks (hint: the most likely answer is the search for more value and the cumbersome nature of managing many law firms), which needs they are trying to meet, and what the underlying factors are making your clients go through all this work.

You can suggest strategies for parceling out the work, organizing client dockets in key practice areas, and offer new ways to group together services. Using clients’ cuts in outside counsel management to develop more business plays right into your client’s hand—they want value, you want their business. 

MBR

*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.

GCs Say Dealing with Law Firms Tiring, Cumbersome

Your client’s time is way more valuable than money. Your clients will tolerate your higher rates and budgets much longer than you wasting their time. While clients don’t like to do it, they can rejigger budgets and apply more price pressure to future work to try to manage their overall budget. Not so with their time.

Clients tell us their time is finite. Top legal decision makers can rarely rearrange their workload and decisions to create more time—and if they could they would have already done it. Your clients are maxed out. This makes wasting clients' time an especially potent villain in destroying value. And almost every single top legal decision maker we talk to has their own take on exactly how law firms waste their time—and, it’s the little things clients think should be streamlined and easy.

Such a Slow Start

These clients talk about protracted negotiations to move from the decision to hire to starting the work, stilted communication between attorneys in the firm resulting in a multiplicity of meetings, new people joining the team who are wholly unprepared, and excessively long documents. 37% of clients see these behaviors as their biggest waste of time.

Incomprehensible Invoices

Dealing with law firm invoices is corporate counsel’s 2nd biggest time sink. 17.7% of clients think deciphering law firm bills is their biggest waste of time. These clients have little patience or sympathy for anything but a clear, easily understandable invoice. Most clients readily admit they take an indecipherable invoice and put it aside until the offending law firms call and ask about it. These same clients then ask for a detailed explanation—wasting even more time.

Errors and Mistakes

10% of clients find themselves correcting attorney work product. Few things destroy value and deflate a relationship more than errors. While clients see the raw cost—they are more concerned about the loss of their own time for what will be their scrutiny of the revised work product.

Helping the One Person with Less Time than You

With the exception of errors, you can turn each of these sink holes of client time into a value-added experience. Clients believe this time is wasted because they can’t see the value. You can reverse this perception by reversing the communication pattern. For example:

  • Tell clients about your internal meetings before they see the invoice
  • Share all the steps you will go through to start a matter—before starting the matter
  • Review anything resembling a complicated invoice with your client before sending it out
  • Use client friendly time entries so clients can see why you are doing what you are doing

If you think you don’t have the time to tell your clients what you are doing and why you are doing it—think of the only person in your life with less time than you—your client. 

MBR

*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.

GCs Name 319 Attorneys Absolutely Best at Client Service

All Stars 2017-01.png

319 attorneys from 160 law firms stand out as absolutely best at client service. Not just great—but head and shoulders above the rest as defined solely by clients. These are the BTI Client Service All-Stars 2017. This report celebrates these remarkable attorneys and their ability to rise above all others with the most demanding clients.

The class of 2017 BTI Client Service All-Stars is especially sought after by clients as their needs have shifted in response to the surge in complex work clients face. These attorneys take, and make, the time to understand their clients in-depth—their business, their objectives, and their goals. This elite group enjoys a clear cut advantage over the competition.

No attorney or firm can self-nominate, self-refer nor pay to be included. The only possible avenue for becoming a BTI Client Service All-Star is for corporate counsel to identify an attorney who stands out for delivering superior client service. BTI asked over 300 corporate counsel, in an unprompted manner, if there is an attorney who truly stands out as delivering the absolute best client service—by name. Only clients select and decide.

Highlights from the BTI Client Service All-Stars 2017 include:

All-Star MVPs—Named by Corporate Counsel in Consecutive Years

2 All-Stars have been named more than 5 consecutive years in a row:

  • Leslie A. Lanusse, Partner, Adams and Reese—7 years
  • Tom Clare, Partner, Clare Locke—5 years

In all, only 54 attorneys—a mere 17% of the All-Stars—are making repeat appearances. Corporate counsel applaud these MVPs for their skill and dedication to client service as client demands soar.

8 Super All-Stars Named in 2017

These 8 attorneys have been named by multiple clients this year:

  • William P. Aiken, Shareholder, Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel
  • James B. Manley, Jr., Partner, Dentons
  • Stephen Glover, Partner, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
  •  Randi C. Lesnick, Partner, Jones Day
  • Jeffrey J. Lederman, Partner, Joseph & Cohen
  • Deborah A. Gitomer, Partner, Norton Rose Fulbright
  • Peter Teare, Partner, Reed Smith
  • William G. Thomas, Senior Partner, Reed Smith

Cultivating Firm-wide Success

Only 16 law firms are home to 5 or more BTI Client Service All-Stars. These firms account for 109 BTI Client Service All-Stars—suggesting a strong culture of client service which is more dominant than at other firms. 13 of these law firms are also singled out by clients in the BTI Client Service A-Team 2017, appearing on this year’s BTI Client Service 30. These 16 firms are:

 9 BTI Client Service All-Stars:

  • Dentons
  • Reed Smith

8 BTI Client Service All-Stars:

  • BakerHostetler
  • Jones Day
  • Sidley Austin
  • Skadden

7 BTI Client Service All-Stars:

  • Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
  • Hogan Lovells
  • Latham & Watkins

6 BTI Client Service All-Stars:

  • DLA Piper
  • Foley & Lardner
  • Ogletree Deakins

5 BTI Client Service All-Stars:

  • Cooley
  • Faegre Baker Daniels
  • Holland & Knight
  • Morgan Lewis

We congratulate each and every BTI Client Service All-Star on their ability to deliver the absolute best client service. Click here to see every attorney we celebrate for client service excellence as measured by the one source who matters most—clients.

MBR

GCs Name 312 Attorneys Absolutely Best at Client Service

312 attorneys stand out as absolutely best at client service. Not just great—but head and shoulders above the rest as defined solely by clients. These are the BTI Client Service All-Stars 2016.

The class of 2016 BTI Client Service All-Stars is especially impressive. Corporate counsel are the most demanding they have ever been. Approximately 25% to 30% of clients are using new measures and metrics to evaluate their outside counsel. Yet, these BTI Client Service All-Stars rise above and beyond the challenge.

No attorney or firm can self-nominate, self-refer nor pay to be included. The only possible avenue for becoming a BTI Client Service All-Star is for corporate counsel to identify an attorney who stands out—above all the others—for delivering superior client service, in an unprompted manner. Only clients select and decide.

Highlights from the BTI Client Service All-Stars 2016 include:

All-Star MVPs—Named by Corporate Counsel in Consecutive Years:

One attorney has been named a BTI Client Service All-Star for a stunning 14 years:

  • H. Rodgin Cohen, Senior Chairman, Sullivan & Cromwell

3 All-Stars have been named more than 5 consecutive years in a row:

  • Leslie A. Lanusse, Partner, Adams and Reese—6 years

  • Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., Partner, Seyfarth Shaw—5 years

  • Jeffrey N. Ostrager, Partner, Curtis—5 years

In all, only 61 attorneys—a mere 19% of the All-Stars—are making repeat appearances. Corporate counsel report these MVPs remain at the top of their game, continuously navigating the ever-changing currents of the client service tide.

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

The number of Super All-Stars has more than doubled from last year. The 9 Super All-Stars for 2016 are:

  • M. Hill Jeffries, Partner, Alston & Bird

  • Ethan A. Klingsberg, Partner, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton

  • Peter J. Eyre, Partner, Crowell & Moring

  • Richard D. Truesdell, Jr., Partner, Davis Polk & Wardwell

  • James B. Manley, Jr., Partner, Dentons

  • Jacob D. Bylund, Partner, Faegre Baker Daniels

  • Michael J. Solecki, Partner, Jones Day

  • Roy Bash, Practice Chair, Polsinelli

  • James B. Aronoff, Partner, Thompson Hine

Cultivating Firm-wide Success:

Only 8 law firms are home to 5 or more BTI Client Service All-Stars. These firms account for 52 BTI Client Service All-Stars—suggesting a culture of client service which is more dominant than at other firms. 7 of these law firms are also singled out by clients in the BTI Client Service A-Team 2016, appearing on this year’s BTI Client Service 30. These 8 firms are:

• Jones Day 8 BTI Client Service All-Stars
• Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom 8 BTI Client Service All-Stars
• Dentons 7 BTI Client Service All-Stars
• BakerHostetler 6 BTI Client Service All-Stars
• Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher 6 BTI Client Service All-Stars
• Mayer Brown 6 BTI Client Service All-Stars
• Reed Smith 6 BTI Client Service All-Stars
• Morgan Lewis 5 BTI Client Service All-Stars

7 firms outside the top 200 largest firms are home to multiple BTI Client Service All-Stars with 18 total All-Stars:

• Arnall Golden Gregory 3 BTI Client Service All-Stars
• Bass, Berry & Sims 2 BTI Client Service All-Stars
• Burke, Williams & Sorensen 2 BTI Client Service All-Stars
• Epstein Becker Green 2 BTI Client Service All-Stars
• Jones Walker 3 BTI Client Service All-Stars
• Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary 3 BTI Client Service All-Stars
• Sherman & Howard 3 BTI Client Service All-Stars

We congratulate each and every BTI Client Service All-Star on their ability to stand above all others in the court of client service.

MBR

Corporate Counsel Shift Another $1.1 Billion In-House

BTI’s first look at legal spending for 2014 and 2015 shows corporate counsel continue on a 3-year path of bringing work in-house. Larger companies, with $1 billion or more in revenue, are on track to move another $1.1 billion in legal spending in-house.[1] This is on top of the $5.8 billion corporate counsel moved in-house in 2013.

In-house spending appears to be the new growth market. As reported earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal58% of companies report making the shift in-house, up from only 50% of companies last year. The work moving in-house includes:

Read More

41% of CLOs Make Changes to Boost Business Value—Now

Value-added. High-value. Shared value. Business value.

We tack some form of this often reviled buzzword onto virtually every activity these days. And no small wonder, it’s what corporate counsel are keyed into. Delivering value overtook cost control as corporate counsel’s most important goal in 2013. In 2014, more CLOs have joined the march. Fully 41% of corporate counsel look to add more value to their business in 2014; up from 32% in 2013. 

So why is “value” still perceived as a buzzword, rather than a necessity of business?

Read More