The 21 Biggest Takeaways from BTI’s Annual Market Outlook and Client Service Review

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So many lessons, so many questions; but so little time. Here is a recap of our 10th annual BTI Market Outlook and Client Service Review. We would like to thank the 1,682 individuals who joined us and appreciate all the feedback—especially considering how much client feedback we develop for our clients. Here are the highlights:

Uncertainty is the biggest driver in the market today. It is the reason clients are:

  • Increasing spending in outside counsel

  • Cutting corporate counsel’s internal spending

  • Demanding more engagement from their law firm

  • Ramping up RFPs

  • Paying higher rates for complex work while applying unrelenting rate pressure on their standard work

Where the Growth Is by Industry and Practice

  • High Tech boasts 9 practices with premium needs and growth—more than all others

  • Health Care, Pharma, and Insurance (non-defense) show 7 premium practice opportunities each

  • Energy and Financial service see premium needs in 6 practices

  • Telecom, Transportation, and Professional Services have the fewest premium needs

  • Demand for Cybersecurity, M&A, and Private Equity leads the growth charge with IP Litigation, Class Actions, and Regulatory close behind

The BTI Client Service 30 are using these new strategies across their client base:

  • Tapping into their largest clients’ needs through client feedback and customization

  • Pinpointing clients’ risk before they do

  • Developing tools for clients to better manage and identify risk

  • Helping clients manage uncertainty

  • Becoming more aggressive in business development

The Most Innovative Law Firms

  • Hail mostly from The BTI Client Service 30—suggesting client service gives you a better on-ramp to the most compelling client innovation and technology needs

  • Tackle the most basic needs—such as historical document access and performance indicators—with scale across the client base

  • Customize technology solutions for their largest clients

  • Ask clients about their specific needs and then build out solutions to meet these needs

Changes in Client Service Expectations

  • Your ability to deal with complexity is now a part of client service—the 17 activities clients use to evaluate law performance and hireability

  • You can’t fully understand risk without understanding your client’s business

Again, this is a brief recap, watch the full recording here to gain vital insights for your firm.

The law firms delivering on all these demands across the client base are outperforming all others. This shows consistency, ability to scale, and your commitment to help—the most influential aspect of client service.

You can use these insights to improve your performance tomorrow. No law firm on the planet can tackle all these demands and changes at once, but you can prioritize, reallocate resources, and focus on the ones which make the biggest difference. You are best served by picking a small number of high-impact tactics for your firm—and scaling across clients. Rogue acts of greatness can’t compete with systematic excellence.

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6 Things the BTI Client Service 30 Do and Others Don’t

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Client service is anything but static. Sometimes client needs evolve over time and sometimes they change on a dime—with no notice. The BTI Client Service 30 follow the lead of world-class firms like PwC, McKinsey, and Accenture to use changing client expectations to their advantage.

Best-in-class law firms stay ahead of clients by tracking shifts in client thinking, problems, and priorities—and offer solutions before clients ever ask. They change their actions and interactions with top clients to solve problems before they happen. Most importantly, they scale their actions across the firm by providing tools and knowledge to relationship partners. The combination of scale and tools is vital. And, while every firm has rogue partners delivering superior client service—it’s not enough to match the growth or new business associated with a large-scale shift.

Here’s what top legal decision makers are telling BTI is helping most—and hard to find:

Managing Increased Complexity

The world is more uncertain than any client planned or thought about a year ago. Clients are worried about tariffs, geopolitics, #metoo, and the impact of the US government on the economy and their business. This is in addition to their day jobs.

The best-in-class law firms dive in head first to define and manage the uncertainty. These firms provide clients with checklists, assessment guides, and strategic counsel before clients ask.

Scalable Teams in Case Things Get Ugly Quickly

Today’s legal matters can turn from hard to complex in a heartbeat. Savvy firms are watching this trend and addressing it by placing attorneys on client standby. The team leader ensures these standby attorneys are actively kept abreast of client issues and can spring into action the moment the matter’s risk ratchets up.

New and Deeper Industry Understanding

Today’s increased complexity is industry specific. High tech is worried about IP litigation, supply chain, industrial espionage, and export controls. Oil & Gas companies are worried about geopolitical issues, pricing, and supply contracts. Retailers are worried about Amazon. Top performers do deep dive research into their clients’ industries to offer industry-specific counsel—and bring better insights.

Even Earlier Assessment

Clients are embracing early case assessment faster than ever. The bigger the risk, the earlier the assessment. The best-in-class law firms are developing protocols to evaluate risk early and often. And make sure clients benefit from this structured approach by making it accessible and part of every relationship manager’s tool kit.

Secondments—Despite the Risk of Losing a Great Associate

Capacity constrained corporate counsel love a good secondment. The top client service performers realize the client benefits outweigh the risk of loss. These law firms figure the associates who leave were likely to leave anyway—and it’s better to have friends in important places. These firms offer up secondments and are quick to say yes when a major client asks.

Custom Innovation

Clients recognize more than 70% of the BTI Client Service 30 as top innovators. They use dedicated individuals and 3rd parties to ask clients what they want and what would be helpful. Corporate counsel may not know exactly what innovation they need, but are quick to identify their pain points when asked. The top client service firms use this insight to drive solutions for these clients and as the basis for their innovation investments.

You can learn the new client service strategies and tactics in use now by The BTI Client Service 30 here, and during our annual webinar today at Noon Eastern.

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BTI’s Market Outlook and Client Service Review 2017

Join BTI as we discuss the best new opportunities for 2017, how new client service leaders make it to the top, and how to get ahead of the market in both share and profitability.

The legal market finally is getting exciting again with new and complex work flowing into the market. The hunt for the new opportunities is on. You can find opportunities in practices, industries, and changes in outside counsel management strategies—firms who learn how to find the new work will outperform all others. BTI’s Market Outlook and Client Service Review will help you find—and grab—them before anyone else.

We’ll delve into powerful findings from more than 320 brand new, in-depth interviews with General Counsel—and 16 years of research and experience—to offer a new perspective on what’s in store for 2017. You’ll learn: 

• The legal spending outlook for 16 industries and 17 practice areas
• BTI’s exclusive analysis of law firms’ market share gains and losses—expanded for 2017
• With over 50% turnover this year see who makes the brand new BTI Client Service 30—and why
• The new business for the taking—even as corporate counsel shift spending in-house
• The law firms reinventing how legal services are delivered—by name
• What it will take to gain new clients and grow the major clients you have
• And much more… 

View the webinar here: https://youtu.be/GLFliIZhGtk

8 Factors Driving Superior Client Service: How Law Firms Climb the BTI Client Service A-Team

Corporate counsel recognized fewer law firms in 2015 for superior client service than 2014. Despite the more demanding environment a few savvy and disciplined law firms buck the trend. These firms climbed the ranks or managed to stay on The BTI Client Service 30 while 11 firms dropped off this elite list.

8 trends stand out among the firms making dramatic jumps or keeping themselves at the top:

1.  Planning to Stay Ahead of Client Expectations as a Way of Life

Clients always expect more. Always.

The better your performance the more clients expect from you. You wouldn’t want it any other way. Clients won’t have it any other way. The law firms climbing the client service ranks are both managing client expectations (using strategically designed client feedback to learn client expectations) and delivering more. This is an ongoing effort, not a one-time event.

2.  Measuring Themselves 6 Ways to Sunday

Metrics can move mountains and propel law firms to move up the client service rankings. These law firms set goals for the number of key actions and behaviors in which a partner will engage. And track partner activity to make sure it happens on a timely basis.

3.  Training and Tools

A cousin to measuring—the top performers provide tools and training to help their partners meet their goals. The training focuses on client service skills and the tools include templates, checklists, and questions to use to ensure each partner knows what superior client service looks like. The very best training programs run mock client discussions and sessions to help prepare for real-life conditions.

4.  Always Moving Ahead

Top client service performers don’t rest or stop to admire their shots. While they may relish their top-tier ranking, the immediate question becomes: “What do we do to get better?” The top performers find answers to this question and adopt the answers throughout the firm.

5.  Accountability Rules

Partners are accountable for client service actions. As discussed above, partners are fully expected to meet their client service objectives throughout the year. Leadership partners are swift and precise in letting partners know they may have missed a planned commitment and offer help in delivering on this commitment—quickly. Partners are reminded of the importance their commitment has to the firm.

6.  Client Feedback Tells Them How They Are Doing so They Can Be the Best

Few tools are more powerful than client feedback. Asked properly, clients will tell you exactly what they want and expect from you. Clients will also tell you about your weaknesses and points of frustration. This feedback is your road map to superior client service. Without feedback you are guessing. The top performers boast some of the most well designed and robust client feedback programs. These firms know the way you ask the question is just as important as asking itself—because it is so easy to get irrelevant answers which don’t help client service and leave attorneys skeptical of client feedback.

7.  It’s a Priority

The BTI Client Service 30 give client service top billing. Client service is a discussion point in almost every part of the firm: at partner meetings, at practice meetings, and partners discuss their client service objectives in their annual goals.

8.  It Starts with the Partners

The top performers start with the partners. Everyone in a law firm knows the partners influence the rest of the firm in their behaviors—and are on the front line of client service. These firms only introduce client service training and activities to staff and associates after the partners are fully trained and metrics developed. This partner-first system is designed to support partner behavior instead of operating independent of their behavior.

You can view our annual BTI Market Outlook and Client Service Review Webinar, which covered this topic and much more here. 

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High-Margin, Complex Work Returns in 2016: How to Get Your Share

Look hard and you will see a faint light at the end of the tunnel. We don’t think it’s a freight train.

Clients are making big time shifts to their spending. Large pockets of dollars are moving to areas where spending increases haven’t been seen in years. And these moves are creating new—and lucrative—opportunities for the law firms able to spot these shifts.

The typical large company was spending $19.6 million on outside counsel in 2015. While the total 2016 outside counsel spending will not change—how it is spent will—creating more opportunity than the market has offered in the last 5 years. Large companies are facing more high-risk work and exposure since the great recession. Somewhere between 18% and 30% of the total budget is moving to this new work. The larger the company, the larger the shift. This translates into between $3 million and $6 million in new business up for grabs—per client.

Many of these new dollars are in highly profitable work: complex and bet-the-company litigation, global M&A, middle market M&A, class actions, and mass torts to name a few. The best targets for law firms are companies in the highest-spending industry segments: Financial Services, Big Pharma, Telecom, and Healthcare. The biggest legal spenders are spending bigger in 2016.

The good news: these dollars aren’t earmarked for specific firms—yet. Clients are shaking up their roster of primary firms, especially as they experience law firm client service dropping like a rock.

Corporate counsel report client service from their law firms is down substantially. There is a 2/3 chance the law firms currently performing the work do not have a lock on the new business. This is your chance to move in.

You can view our annual BTI Market Outlook and Client Service Review Webinar, which covered this topic and much more here. 

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Ignore Market Trends: Strategic Planning’s Third Deadly Sin

Dealing with market trends adds a new degree of difficulty to strategic planning. This is especially true when the trends are anything but high growth. Not only do you have to come up with the right goals, you now need to either take advantage of external forces or at least take them into account.


Most law firms want to know the trends, few want to face them head on. We can pinpoint 6 reasons:

  • Trends require explanation and proof to convince partners, and often leadership, of their impact
  • Leveraging anything but a growth trend is a relatively new phenomena which may demand new and untested tactics
  • There are so many trends it is difficult to separate the driving trends from the inconsequential ones
  • Trends connected with low growth or flat markets push law firms out of their comfort zone—and into dealing with the unknown
  • The metrics used to drive success will be new and different and need to be developed
  • We often don’t like the trends—slow growth, less work, rate pressure or increasing client expectations 

Trends are agnostic and have no feelings. Virtually every trend has an upside. Unless the practice of law disappears from society entirely you can find an approach to take advantage of any trend. Your approach will be viewed by other law firms as bold, wrong, counterintuitive and with puzzlement. But, meeting trends head on means you will be positioning yourself for leadership.

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7 Lessons from the Client Service A-Team

Corporate counsel have identified the 30 law firms delivering the absolute best client service. The BTI Client Service 30 outperforms more than 650 other firms by a factor of 6 to land among the client service elite.

It’s easy to dismiss client service as a nice-to-have soft skill. However, research shows the firms performing at best-in-class levels of service enjoy:

  • 30% higher profits
  • 7% rate premiums across all staffing levels
  • Double the fees from a single client
  • 35% higher client retention

The BTI Client Service 30 all manage and think about client service differently than other firms. We found 7 profound differences:

1. More Change for the Buck
Changing attorney behavior is the single biggest hurdle BTI hears about when discussing how to boost client service performance. Few attorneys are willing (or more likely know how) to make the specific changes necessary to drive a best-in-class performance. 

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