22% of Clients Bring on New GCs: New Game, New Rules, New Rates

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22% of clients are disrupting the market right now. These are the new GCs. Half of these have been in place for less than 12 months. Another half have been in place 23 months—just enough to get their sea legs. We see 2 big implications for law firms:

  1. This is only the beginning of a trend. The growth rate in retiring baby boomers will increase before it drops—expect a steady stream of new GCs. Plan ahead and develop a standard set of protocols to welcome all new GCs—and build yourself some serious relationships with this untapped source of new business.

  2. Almost every new GC puts out an RFP for legal services somewhere between 18 and 24 months into their tenure. Take control and offer to help write the RFP. Avoid the RFP by introducing yourself and befriending the new GC early on. Help with onboarding and start the conversation about complexity.

Here is what these new GCs are thinking and facing:

Starting When Risk is the Highest it’s Ever Been

The new GCs entire tenure started as the surge in risk and uncertainty hit the market. This is their version of normal. They look at life solely through a high-risk filter—quickly assessing situations, comfortable with intuition combined with data, and are looking for someone to share opinions with. They know their success demands they make decisions and make them quickly.

Comfortable with Complexity

The new GCs dive into complexity head first. They want to sort it out into its component parts and solve the core issues. They want outside counsel who is comfortable dealing with complexity and unequivocal in their approach—and advice.

Total Cost is More Important Than Hourly Cost

New GCs look at the big picture when it comes to cost. Hourly rates don’t mean low cost. These new GCs figure out which firms will deliver and what the total budget will be—the firm with the lowest hourly cost rarely offers the lowest total cost.

Working Smarter

New GCs know they are in the best position to spot redundancy, overlapping communications, and processes where their useful life is over but still in practice. They are diving in and making changes in the work process and communications with one goal—streamline. This ability to improve efficiency is unique to new GCs.

Double Whammy—an Acquired Company

A number of new GCs are stepping into merged companies who just made acquisitions. This dual challenge of being new to 2 companies brings out the best in these new GCs as they focus on integrating people and systems—on top of sorting out risks and legal issues.

You Can’t Get Me If You Don’t Talk to Me

New GCs tell BTI they are downright shocked at how few law firms reach out to them when they initially take the reins. These new GCs have their own agendas. Any law firm who fails to reach out is unintentionally telling new GCs they don’t want to get to know them.

Amazing Coaches

A few law firms step up and not only welcome and say hello to new GCs—they also work to provide a successful onboarding experience. The firms share current priorities, history, back story, and offer counsel on how to be successful. These partners are cherished.

BTI’s exclusive research shows the number of new GCs has doubled from 11% in 2014. As we discuss at the beginning of this post—this trend is on the rise. Use it to your advantage.

MBR

7 Ways Client Service All Stars are Different: You Can Implement Them Now

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Each year, The BTI Client Service All-Stars manage to up their game. They know how to push client service beyond its current limits. They know how to break through not only the clutter of competition, but the self-imposed client service limits some attorneys face. Here are 7 examples of superior client service you can learn from, emulate, or just copy.

1. “She knows how to break complexity down into its simplest parts.”

All-Stars sit with their clients and point out where they need to make decisions and where they don’t. They help evaluate the risk with each decision and share their opinions. The Financial Times Uncertainty Index is at an all-time high—corporate counsel face more complexity than ever before—making those who can simplify complexity truly prized.

2. “She always helps me see the business risk and then helps me shape the message to management.”

Top executives never ask corporate counsel about legal risk—they ask about business risk and exposure. Probing executives want answers in these same terms. This is where the BTI Client All-Stars step in—they help articulate the business risk and the current state of exposure. They will test the message and help their client prepare a response.

3. “Any and every commitment is set in stone. He just delivers.”

Certainty in delivery eliminates one big worry for top legal decision makers. Clients want their deliverables so they can be reviewed, changed and thought about before passing them on. The BTI Client Service All-Stars always deliver when they say they will—if not earlier. This certainty is the difference between clients feeling fully prepared or not.

4. “He is down to earth and knows how to get things done.”

No over studying here. The BTI Client Service All-Stars use their experience, insight, analytical skills, and their client’s knowledge to get things done. Things don’t become ethereal and everything is geared towards decision making and action.

5. “She provides pointed and unequivocal advice.”

My recommendation is to be unequivocal—like The BTI Client Service All-Stars. The All-Stars play it straight. They voice their opinion, give their reasons why, and help their clients think things through to completion. These All-Stars are clear and confident. Clients appreciate the candor—even when clients don’t like the recommendations.

6. “It’s like she has a no mediocrity policy.”

Everything comes across uniformly excellent. Not only are thing on-time, they meet high quality standards and client expectations. Everything single email and deliverable from the All-Star’s client team meets these same standards as well. On the rare occasion they don’t, clients consider it an aberration—not a mistake.

7. “He is watching my back even when I am not.”

Providing a list of questions your client may be asked is impressive—providing the answers makes you a BTI Client Service All-Star. Clients tell BTI their All-Stars think about them every step of the way; what to be prepared for—curves balls which may arise, dry-running a presentation, and even shouldering the blame when they make a mistake.

Superior client service is all about finding ways to not only improve—but redefine how clients think about you and what you do for them. There are no structural barriers to become a BTI Client service All-Star—the barriers lie in how we think about what we can ultimately do for clients. Use this post to learn what the All-Stars do—and hopefully, you can use them to come up with new, better, and ground-breaking ideas.   

MBR

Clients Single Out 30 Law Firms Best at Client Service

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The BTI Client Service 30 keeps putting more distance between themselves and everyone else. But, as in prior years, certain law firms manage to leap frog a whole group of competitors and land a spot in the BTI Client Service 30—knocking out others. Client service performance is dynamic, absolute, relative, and a source of real advantage—all at once.

The leap into the Top 30 is always the result of a set of strategies and tactics to improve client service—all having management backing and teeth (otherwise known as accountability, metrics, and funding). We can see the firms improving in the years prior to joining the best-in-class firms—moving steadily up the curve.

This year we congratulate the following firms on rejoining the BTI Client Service 30:

  • Arnold & Porter (15)

  • Ropes & Gray (21)

  • Willkie (26)

  • Goodwin (28)

  • Greenberg Traurig (29)

At the same time, only 3 law firms remain as a continuing part of the elite BTI Client Service 30 in each and every one of the 18 years we have conducted the survey. We congratulate the following 3 firms for their longstanding skill in delivering at the leading edge of client service performance on an ongoing basis:

  • Jones Day

  • Morgan Lewis

  • Sidley Austin

Jones Day is ranked number 1 in client service more than any other law firm for an impressive 11 out of 18 times. 2019 also marks Jones Day’s 3rd year in a row at number 1—a feat only accomplished when all the partners successfully work, firmwide, to improve all the time with every client.

Skadden is ranked at number 2 for the 2nd year in a row. Latham, DLA, Gibson Dunn, and Hogan Lovells all moved up to fill out the top 5—presented in rank order.

Each member of the BTI Client Service 30 takes their own approach to client service. You can see it built into the culture and the behaviors. You can learn the client service strategies and tactics used by the BTI Client Service 30 here. You can see where your firm stands by ordering your copy of the BTI Client Service A-Team 2019: Survey of Law Firm Client Service Performance, which includes a custom comparison of your firm with up to 8 competitors of your choice. This report is the only place you can learn exactly where your firm improved and where a competitor may have improved more—and recommends exactly what to do about it.

BTI has been helping our clients design and implement the most effective client service and business development programs in the world for 30 years. We welcome the opportunity to discuss how to improve your performance.

Please join me in congratulating the BTI Client Service 30 for 2019.

MBR

(Based on more than 350 in-depth interviews with top legal decision makers conducted between January 2018 and November 2018 conducted by The BTI Consulting Group.) 

Making Better Associates Faster

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Associates want more than money. They want some recognition—not much, but some—and they want to feel like they have a future. A big part of this sense of future is feeling like their firm is investing in them. Law firms can take immediate steps to make the future more obvious and brighter.

Ask associates to make decisions before you think they are ready

Not the biggest decisions, but just ahead of where you think their knowledge and experience are. Put these associates in a position to chase instead of following their performance. The associates who will grow into leaders want the opportunity to strut their stuff and be challenged.

Their ability to make the right decision is an intangible benefit providing confidence and increased job satisfaction. They may be wrong in their decisions, but they will learn faster by making their mistakes in a protected environment. Be ready to coach and explain why they might have made a wrong decision in time to make it right.

Find a reason to bring associates to clients

The best associates thrive on client air. Nothing compares to observing clients, interacting with clients, and seeing how different things can be with a client present. Your associates can observe partner behaviors and discussions, and gain insight into the art of client management and how to talk to clients. Associates will also be better able to support partners as they hone their knowledge of what partners need.

Ask your best clients if you can bring associates to meetings to learn and observe

Most clients welcome this opportunity. They enjoy mentoring and influencing an associate’s career. This gesture shows clients how client-focused you are as you teach associates what clients think. If you are skilled and/or lucky, your client will invest in your associate’s success.

Give your top associate a specific role in client meetings

Then, immediately give them detailed coaching on how to play this role. This includes practice sessions before you go to the client meeting. Don’t go easy—practice the difficult questions as well as the softballs.

Ask your associates to research one major client in depth to find new information and insights

Understanding a client’s business is one of the biggest law firm differentiators in the market. The best associates crave information about the client for whom they perform work. This adds up to a high-power opportunity for associates and law firms. Ask an associate to perform business research on a key client where they bill time. Ask them to look beyond immediate headlines and find product plans, growth plans, M&A history, and business challenges.

Ask these associates to use all firm resources but insist they synthesize the data into usable analysis, and bullet points. Ask for partner-ready summaries which relationship managers can use to discuss things with clients. Associates love the responsibility to make an impact and partners get help in developing high-value client conversations.

Train, train, train, and train

Few things say I’m investing in your future like training. Training goes well beyond teaching associates new and useful skills…it drives culture. Associates adopt the values the training supports. Start training in client service and watch associates embrace the importance of client service. Train them every year and they will believe it is increasingly important in everything you do.

We recommend developing and delivering associate training in 4 key areas:

  • Client service—a core component of any client-facing business. You can’t train anyone early enough nor hone their skills enough. This associate training will also improve partner support and productivity—as associates use newly acquired client skills with partners.

  • Business development—a proven tool to draw out the associates with interest and potential talent in business development. Use this training to introduce business development and bring it into the firm’s culture early. This will make business development a more natural and effective process when the associates reach partner.

  • Social media—your associates are already using it. Leverage their natural inclination to incorporate social media into their professional success. The art of social media for business can be taught and is effective for making new contacts and clients.

  • Networking—always talked about but rarely taught. Teaching associates when, where, and how to network is giving them fuel for their careers and business development.

Associates are more valuable than ever—and continue to increase in value. Law firms are working harder to keep them—and keep them longer. These steps turn associates into better attorneys, makes them feel more invested in the firm, and helps define their clear contribution to the firm besides their billable hours. This is your opportunity to make your associates better and keep them around a lot longer.

MBR

More Clients than Ever Cutting Law Firm Rosters; Sets New Record

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Clients are at it again. No sooner had clients cut their law firm rosters to record lows than they turn around and start cutting again. But on a much wider scale.

22% to 30% of clients are cutting, or about to cut, their law firm rosters. This sets a new record and is double the prior average of 13% of clients looking to cutback at any one point.

These top legal decision makers say the trifecta of a surge in shoddy law firm work, increasing complexity, and lackluster client service turns too many law firms into way too many law firms. Managing this many law firms costs way more than money—it costs money, cycle time, and increases risk.

Why They Do It

For clients, fewer law firms translates into better risk management. Fewer law firms means more uniformity in approach, overriding legal philosophy, and fewer people to understand and make understand. Communication is more streamlined and direct. In short, life is easier and work flows more smoothly. It also saves money.

As a result, clients are planning the biggest cuts to their rosters yet. These clients are planning reductions from hundreds or dozens of firms to fewer than 10. The fringe players will be gone or phased out. A few secondary providers will move up the ladder. The current primary firms will have to prove their worth to keep the coveted primary spot as the firm receiving the biggest portion of the work.

Clients are looking for firms who can deliver on the client service front. These same clients are looking for signs of collaboration within a firm as work streams grow in size. Currently, only 51% of clients believe their law firms show signs of collaboration, and only 33% recommend their primary law firm. The field is pretty open. Clients will rely as much on your pre- and post-pitch discussions as your initial pitch to see if your firm makes the cut.

After talking to 359 clients—here’s what we recommend you do:

  • Ask clients if and when they plan to shrink their law firm rosters—these are no longer public events and may be conducted with little fanfare

  • Help clients plan to use fewer law firms by segmenting work based on risk and complexity, business units in your client’s company, or other high-value categories

  • Develop a plan to perform the best work with a new approach, including regular budget and update meetings and training to better learn client objectives and sensitivities

  • If you have to pitch in a competition, talk all about client needs and risk—they know who you are and are eliminating firms who act like they are pitching a new relationship and are talking about themselves

  • Ramp up every aspect of client service to ensure you not only show improvement but also stand out

  • Get deep and meaningful client feedback about how you can improve and your clients’ plans—yes we do a lot of this, and clients are happy to share—especially if they want to keep you on their panel

Every client cutting their law firm panel is a major growth opportunity. Look for it, go find it, and use it to your advantage while other firms still see it as a threat. Your clients will welcome the help if you have a meaningful relationship—like the kind of client you want to keep. Those firms who don’t act like they already deserve the work are the first to fall by the wayside.

MBR

(Based on more than 350 in-depth interviews, with top legal decision makers conducted between March 2018 and August 2018.)

Top 7 Client Innovation and Technology Needs

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Two viewpoints dominate innovation—clients and law firms. The gap between the 2 is large. Clients say only half of all law firms are showing any sign of innovation. The law firms who are among the first to close this gap will win the innovation race, or at least take the lead.

BTI’s exclusive research with top legal decision makers uncovered 27 client needs and priorities—some demand technology, while a significant number don’t. We discuss 7 of these needs below:

  1. Online access to (and storage of) working and final documents
    Clients want their law firms to place their documents in a secure, easily accessible digital location. These clients want to see current work product and drafts but want history as well. They also want client-friendly naming conventions, clearly describing the content.

  2. Dashboards with budget status, timelines, and KPIs
    Clients routinely report financial performance for their department and selected matters to key individuals. The days of chasing law firms for this information are coming to an end. The innovative law firms are pushing this out to clients and provide near real-time access in user friendly formats—AKA—a dashboard.

  3. Remote access to work product through apps and cloud‐based systems
    Clients want simple to use apps to access the data on 1 and 2 above, just as they do in many aspects of their life.

  4. Online support
    Clients want to know where to call, knowing it’s not their lawyer, to get help using your website and accessing data.

  5. Contract development and management tools
    In what could be the first real client adoption of AI-based tools, clients see great benefits in using software to manage contract development and existing contract management.

  6. Process and workflow management strategies
    Clients tell us the real benefits in improving process and workflow are better quality, more clear communications, and shorter cycle times. The reduced billable hours and resulting savings are a strong 2nd place benefit.

  7. Artificial/Augmented Intelligence tools
    Top legal decision makers are looking for benefits in e-discovery and contract automation. Other tools such as AI-based legal research can bring benefits—but clients expect law firms to adopt these tools to improve quality and cycle time. The main message—top client needs are foundational—focusing on day-to-day activities and needs. AI becomes interesting when it hit daily operations.

The law firms standing out for innovation are talking to their clients, getting feedback, and putting innovation officers in direct contact with clients—as well as getting client feedback. These firms then build tools or change behaviors and apply these changes to the broader client base.

You can learn all the details behind the 27 client needs and priorities in BTI’s just released BTI Legal Innovation and Technology Outlook 2019: Clients Rank Their Needs and Law Firm Performance. This report also details 40 law firm actions and tactics clients see as the most innovative—in full detail. Learn more here.

MBR

(Based on more than 359 in‐depth telephone interviews conducted between February 20, 2017 and July 8, 2018)

The 52 Law Firms Clients Single Out as Best at Innovation

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Who knew. Law firms are innovative. Well, at least half of them are, according to top legal decision makers. Clients point to 338 law firms who bring a meaningful innovation or use of technology. But, most firms bring only select aspects of client needs and priorities. These firms are on the right path.

52 firms stand out as being able to put together the broadest, most impactful and robust innovation and technology strategies. These firms stand out as providing the most benefit as well as being the most innovative. Please join me in congratulating the following firms for their bold, client-centric, and practical innovation, which clients single out as best—in a completely unprompted manner:


You can learn exactly where your firm stands compared to the 52 above and 338 firms clients talk about in our just released report BTI Legal Innovation and Technology Outlook 2019: Clients Rank Their Needs and Law Firm Performance.

This is the only guide to rank firms on legal innovation and technology based solely on client input. You can also immediately discover: 

  • 27 specific client needs and priorities driving innovation and technology. Use this insight to immediately target clients’ most compelling needs and be seen as a market-leading innovator
  • 40 law firm actions and tactics clients see as the most innovative—in full detail

ORDER NOW and immediately receive your copy of this essential report to stay ahead of client needs, other law firms, and the market.

MBR

Based on more than 359 in‐depth telephone interviews conducted between February 20, 2017 and July 8, 2018

93% of Clients Recommend a Law Firm—It’s Probably Not You

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Only 1 in 3 clients recommends their primary law firm to a peer. A level rivaling both last year and 15 years ago. The reason for the drop: clients expect more. Much more. In their minds, they are spending more money with outside counsel—mostly on complex matters. The complex matters demand more attention and increased levels of client service. Instead, here’s what clients tell us:

Clients have only recently started to spend more money with outside counsel—on mostly complex matters. They expect more attention and deeper understanding of their situations. And, they expect their primary law firm—as in the one who gets the most business—to deliver on every front—especially the sources of frustration listed above.

Peer-to-peer recommendations are the single most powerful source of new business for a law firm. Everything else pales in comparison. The main reason clients recommend a law firm—client service—is 61% of all reasons. This is nearly 5 times the next factor.

The law firms who manage to earn client recommendations are growing faster and booking new business at a lower cost of acquisition. This not only drives revenue—but drives profits.

GCs make these recommendations to each other in private conversations. These include one-on-one discussions, group meetings, conferences, and a host of formal and informal venues. Clients find it a hot topic—who is good. And they want names.

These are not the “will you vouch for me” recommendations. Unprompted recommendations happen when a GC offers a name, without any prompting or suggestion of who. This recommendation comes from the ongoing evaluation of all the law firms in GC’s mental roster. The firm with the best client service wins—whether they are primary or not.

Stay tuned—next week BTI is publishing the most recommended law firms—by name. See you then.

MBR

7 Questions to Ask Every Client Before August 15

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Let’s play word association.

I say: “July or August

You say: “Vacations, people out, summertime” 

Top legal officers say: “Next year’s budgets, end of year results, and adjust for the 2nd half of the year”

Large clients are thinking about next year’s budget right now. Many have submitted their first drafts to management. Your clients are learning how their company’s 4th quarter will play out—and any changes in plans/priorities which may result. They are integrating the unplanned events which popped up earlier this year while predicting surprises yet to come. All in addition to their day jobs.

This is your chance.

Engage your clients by asking questions and providing answers. Offer perspective on the budget trends you see at other clients—are they flat, headed up, or headed down? These insights are valued and hard to come by. Clients use your insight to manage their management and their budgets. Here are the questions we find most effective: 

1.       When do you submit your 2019 budget?
2.       Are you working on your 2019 budget? (If already submitted—how was it received, do you need to make any changes?)
3.       How is your budget performance looking for this year?
4.       What were the big surprises this year?
5.       What do you think they will be next year?  
6.       Are there any changes in management pressures or goals for the second half of the year?
7.       What can I do to help you meet your year-end goal?  

And maybe don’t ask the last question—act instead. Offer the following:

-        Help triage priorities for the year
-        A 2nd-year associate to help with leg work
-        Perspective on changes your clients are making to headcount, AFAs, technology, and training

The really bold can offer up some fixed fees for specified portions of your client’s caseload or work in the new year.

Summer is one of the best times to start locking in future work and help where clients need it now.

MBR

New, Classic, Light, and Heavy Summer Reading—All with Lasting Lessons

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Summer reading can be a light or a serious read. I recommend a selection from each for summer reading—a light and short and maybe something longer when you are done. My selections include:

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Learn all about creativity and a great mind. See how a genius thinks about the world and thinks in general. See how he relentlessly pursues answers to satisfy his curiosity and how he procrastinates. Learn how he manages not to create boundaries to limit his thinking.

How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day by Michael J. Gelb

Mr. Gelb, who is also an excellent presenter, offers practical insight into being more creative and what holds us back. He suggests strategies such as focusing on questions instead of answers and how to eliminate the constraints of outcomes to encourage creative and more original thinking.

In the lighter category, I highly recommend a read or re-read of:

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D.

This highly readable book can be digested in an hour or so. 2 mice and 2 people deal with change, complacency, contentment, and the obstacles to change—presented as a story about the different approaches to the dwindling cheese supply. Amusing and thought-provoking, this book is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary. It spent 5 years on the New York Times best seller list.

And, a set of summer reading recommendations would not be complete without:

The Mad Clientist’s ABCs of Client Service by Michael Rynowecer

This fully illustrated book is a light-hearted look at a deadly serious skill: learning how to improve client service. The Mad Clientist distilled 14,000 in-depth interviews with top executives into 26 pithy, pointed actions for you to start using today. Spend just 26 minutes with The Mad Clientist and his ABCs of Client Service and improve your client service immediately.

Clientelligence: How Superior Client Relationships Fuel Growth and Profits by Michael Rynowecer

Learn how to drive growth and develop the best relationships with clients—based on in-depth research with 14,000 top decision makers who hire professional services firms. The decision makers point to 17 activities described within Clientelligence as driving superior client relationships, service, and new business.

Learn and enjoy.

MBR