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

 
 

Law Firms Embrace Funky Billing, Go Rogue

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Clients are seeing the funkiest and even what they describe as “slippery bills” from their law firms. We are not talking about isolated incidents; fully 38% of clients tell us about slipshod bills—doubling the 19% of last year. Why are clients using such strong language? Judge for yourself:

 
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And then consider:

 
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Law Firms Going Rogue

Clients reporting rogue law firms triples to 20%, up from a mere 6.8% last year. These top legal decision makers point to law firms performing what they sincerely believe to be unauthorized work. This includes research, negotiating with the other side, agreeing to new terms and conditions, and communication to the other side without pre-authorization. And, clients learn about the work in the worst ways—from the other side or through deciphering invoices and figuring it out.

Clients realize scope changes happen and law firms may have to do work not easily anticipated. What they don’t understand is why they learn about it through invoices or by accident. Clients believe most of these changes can be seen in advance and they have a right to know— it’s an entitlement—not a courtesy.

The Antidote

Unfortunately, this impacts all law firms as clients up their scrutiny and question scope more. There is no better antidote than keeping your clients in the loop. Update clients before they ask. Share any new events in real time, inform clients when there is no change in circumstances, and even when things are going just fine. Don’t use invoices to communicate progress or staffing plans—over communicate to make sure your client not only knows—but hears what you are saying.

MBR

Only 7 Things Drive Law Firm CMOs Crazy

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CMOs are quick to point out how the attorneys are the best part of the job. But, some attorneys do a good job of driving them absolutely crazy.

4 of the 7 sources of CMO frustration start with attorneys—a small number of attorneys, but attorneys none the less. Attorneys don’t have an exclusive on driving CMOs to the brink—daily life and strategic issues play their role too.

Let’s talk about the attorneys first.

4 types of attorneys are driving CMOs crazy. They break down into the following groups:

Marketing and Business Development Skeptics

About 10% of attorneys are true Marketing and Business Development (MBD) skeptics. These attorneys don’t see how CMOs can help them—and show no interest in learning. Some are loud and vocal, and openly question your plans and attempts to help. Other MBD skeptics question CMOs in private because they are in the clear minority—but take up too much air time in the CMO world—and drive them crazy.

The Apathetic

Worse than MBD skeptics, these attorneys just don’t care about MBD initiatives. They go along as if the MBD department isn’t there. They interact only when they absolutely have to—and sometimes even then they ask not to be included.

The Jerks

They still exist—and do a great job of driving CMOs crazy. The jerks bring unpleasant, and sometimes nasty comments. They are more troublesome than the 2 groups above because they are loud, active, and go out of their way to share their thinking. The best CMOs learn to let this water run off their back and move on. Fortunately, the number of jerks has decreased to less than 5% of all partners, but their impact is much larger than their footprint suggests.

Distracted Attorneys

Attorneys can have short attention spans. But the distracted attorneys bring new meaning. These often well-meaning attorneys, move from one topic to another with lightening speed. They don’t stay in place long enough to get any traction—and they request individualized help to support their ongoing stream of ideas.

Moving away from attorneys, CMOs point to the following 3 issues as driving them crazy:

Directories and Rankings

The workload and high attorney demand drive CMOs crazy. Attorneys bring a high emotional investment in making the rankings—but most of the workload falls squarely in MBD department. This can be a double whammy because a small but measurable number of the attorneys not making the rankings become jerks and skeptics.

No Strategy

These CMOs are working hard but are not sure where they are going. They see no sign of a firm strategy or vision. This not only dilutes the CMOs’ efforts but takes away guiding light. These CMOs are among the few who have a bird’s eye seat to multiple strategies and wasted resources. These same CMOs see the power of using the resources for a limited number of strategically coordinated initiatives.

Workload

Think of it as a form of job security. Demand exceeds marketing supply. CMOs face a continuing stream of RFPs before adding in all the daily tasks of running the department—mentoring, partner requests, events, web updates, PR, special projects, and a string of strategic initiatives like client teams, client feedback, and industry teams. Simply put, the CMO cup runneth over.

BTI’’s exclusive research shows the largest firms (think Am Law 30) are adding staff, as are the Am Law 31 to 100, and the Am Law second 100. This is not enough staff to fuel the demand. But the resource-short departments learn to prioritize and manage expectations to deliver what their firms need and expect.

The Good News

Successful CMOs know how to successfully navigate these frustrations—and they would do it all again. They know what experience counts and what’s worth caring about. As we discussed a few weeks ago, the most successful CMOs also shared 7 lessons they learned to make sure they don’t let their responsibilities or people they deal with drive them crazy. You can’t read this advice too many times.

MBR

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

Who'll Collect the Win? 9 Firms Intent on Edging Out Kirkland and Latham

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Who’s next? Kirkland and Latham are in a class by themselves. So, which firms can get even bigger and create a new class? We asked more than 160 law firm marketing leaders and here’s who they think are the next firms to deliver blow-out growth:

DLA Piper and Dentons

These 2 merger-hungry firms lead the list of firms most likely to pass Kirkland and Latham in growth. Law firm leaders expect DLA Piper and Dentons to find new merger partners—and create 2 new, even larger firms to drive unmatched growth. Whether the mergers occur inside or outside the US remains to be seen—but—the competition expects each firm’s next moves to be big and impactful.

Baker McKenzie

The firm is undergoing major changes to bring together its many pieces into a unified growth machine. The firm closed comp, brought in a strong leader to drive client development, and is becoming much more aggressive in its innovation and thought leadership. This is the strongest effort yet to create the uniformity successful law firms need to scale past the current market leaders.

Hogan Lovells

With a collection of global clients which would make any law firm salivate, Hogan Lovells has the existing base to kick off blazing global growth. The firm’s proven experience in serving and managing global clients paired with its superior client service prowess has law firm leaders watching Hogan Lovell’s next steps—very carefully.  

Jones Day

Boasting one of the best brands and the highest levels of client service, Jones Day is positioned to leapfrog the market leaders. The firm brings one of the strongest cultures of strategic discipline and uniformity across the globe. The partners understand and believe in the firm’s strategy—and the changes in strategy as market demands change. Jones Day understands the legal world is all about its clients—and knows their clients better than most others. All this adds up to outsized growth waiting to happen.

Morgan Lewis

Morgan Lewis is one of the rare firms able to integrate its sizable lateral pool, deliver superior client service, change its approach to the market as needs develop, and is deeply committed to client-facing innovation (dating back over 20 years when Cisco used Morgan Lewis as the poster child for how to use AFAs). Look for the firm to take on more lateral groups and improve its already high-performing global client teams to drive leadership growth levels.

Paul, Weiss

Paul, Weis announced its new growth strategy by picking up Scott Barshay out of Cravath. Not only did it announce the death knell for lock step, it announced the firm was going big. The firm is one of the few with successful lateral integration. The firm’s lateral rainmakers are supported while growing the existing client base firmwide. A longtime client feedback advocate, Paul, Weiss is adding business (and profits) by leaps and bounds.

Quinn Emanuel

Quinn is nothing if not aggressive. Having passed $1 billion last year, you have to believe $3 or $5 billion in revenue is the next goal. The firm takes marketing and business development more seriously than most give it credit for. Quinn targets prime clients and goes after them with a vengeance. It understands how to win work without RFPs. The firm brings in rainmakers able to keep their existing clients while also finding new ones. Quinn is enjoying brand growth—driving more inbound leads. A growing group of clients is coming to terms with Quinn’s representing plaintiffs and defendants—and a few clients see it is a plus.

Skadden

Boasting one of the strongest brands, competitors expect the firm to gain the momentum to go right past Kirkland and Latham. The firm enjoys an institutional client base with large budgets and recurring needs. The brand generates significant inbound referrals. Skadden sits in the heart of the markets showing the most growth—providing a strong tailwind.

Skadden assigns a group of partners to look at business development and client related issues at regular intervals. These groups may not have long lives but a short life span can bring a more thoughtful approach. Our research detected 2 changes to it's business development and client development tactics—both relying on educating clients on leading-edge trends in transactions and litigation. While Skadden has a history of using their knowledge to keep clients current—the tactic is becoming more widespread – developing brand and new business across a wide swath of top legal decision makers.

The Big 4

A smaller number of law firm marketing leaders expect the Big 4 to eclipse law firms in size and growth. The Big 4 can only achieve this by acquisition; this would clearly redefine the business of law as we know it and require some regulatory wrangling.

Nobody No How

11% of law firm marketing leaders believe Kirkland and Latham have a lock on being the fastest to grow. They see these 2 firms as having the strategies to continue being unmatched market leaders.

We eagerly watch the competing landscape unfold. Paul, Weiss and Kirkland will not be the only firms to pluck the best laterals. Other law firms are making large investments in their growth which they believe in their heart of hearts will drive market-setting growth. These firms rarely get noticed during early implementation and “pop up out of nowhere” when they start to grow.

We wish all these firms luck as we track their growth and watch how they navigate one of the most attractive legal markets to appear in almost 20 years.

MBR

 

The Lost Secrets Behind Latham and Kirkland's Success

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There is more to this story than meets the eye.

Latham’s largest clients use an average of 21 of the firm’s offices. This doesn’t happen by accident. Kirkland didn’t close almost 10 deals a week last year through luck. The success of these firms is based on foundational skills, strong core building blocks—and well thought out strategies.

Their blocking and tackling skills serve as the underpinning of success. Here are the key (but unsung) parts of their outsized growth and profits:

Highly Selective in Targeting Clients

A select group of coveted clients have needs requiring law firms to deliver across multiple offices, drawing on numerous practices. Latham targets and goes after these clients with a vengeance. Their BD goals and efforts focus on getting and growing these clients. Kirkland puts their emphasis on private equity firms, starting with the largest.

Both firms also target the biggest spenders in largest spending industries where clients have ongoing needs. Latham and Kirkland draw on this strategy and use it to their advantage by targeting very specific clients who will drive their success.

Go-to-Market by Industry-Facing Groups

Becoming known in an industry requires more than a change in marketing—it requires investment. Kirkland began their biggest investment in the private equity market beginning in 1984 when the industry was in its infancy. Over the years, their Private Equity Ski Conference has placed them at the epicenter of the US private equity market.

Latham has made large scale investments in their industry facing programs. They use this to communicate their business understanding—the single biggest differentiator in the market.

Strategic Discipline

Kirkland and Latham stick to their plans. They monitor and adjust, but they give their efforts enough time to succeed. If interim results aren’t on target, they change the plan—not the goal.

They Know How to Make Lateral Partners Work

Both firms routinely pick off lateral partners and are among the small number of firms where laterals are successful. Both firms know how to bring laterals into their cultures. These firms know how to leverage each lateral’s book. And they do more due diligence in their laterals than most other firms combined.

Fewer but Bigger Investments

Each firm targets fewer clients, markets, and practices than other firms. They invest more capital and their best people. More money invested in fewer places yields a higher strategic ROI.

Client Teams

Latham’s client team program is more than a decade old. They are honed, have budgets, and are supported by money, people, tools, training, metrics, and infrastructure to make them work.

Culture of Strategy

The strategies at Latham and Kirkland are clear and concise. These firms articulate their strategies with energy and passion—engendering enthusiasm at the firm. They have few naysayers. The attorneys who don’t agree with the firm’s strategic direction, don’t usually stick around.

Focus on Existing Clients, but….

Near-term future success lies in developing existing clients. These market-leading firms are intensely focused on developing existing clients. It’s not only part of their strategy—it’s part of their culture and BD system. But these firms target new clients as well—often by name—to add to their stable. As we discuss above, each firm targets the clients who best fit their strategy and approach—and are the biggest legal spenders out there.

Invest in Business Development and Support

It takes a village, or at least a robust business development staff, to support these highly driven partners. We estimate each firm has 1 BD person for every 4 equity partners. This compares to 1 BD person for every 4.6 partners at the largest 3 law firms—and 1 BD person for every 6.2 equity partners for the typical Am Law 200 firm.

Share the Credit

Business development is usually a team effort—and an effort many firms don’t acknowledge. Latham shares credit for origination, support, or even a referral. You don’t have to close the sale to get credit. All the key players are recognized for their collective effort. This incentivizes all attorneys to do their part to win new work for the firm.

Talk to Clients—Directly and Indirectly

Kirkland and Latham base their growth strategies and tactics on many factors, including client feedback. Their approach is informed by client thinking. They know law firms can’t be successful without learning from and responding to client thinking.

Any and every law firm can adopt the tactics and strategies embraced by Latham and Kirkland. All firms can target the best clients (not the most prestigious—but the clients most likely to drive success). Every law firm can set up client teams, get client feedback, and with some work—change their business development credit system.

Some firms have embraced these tactics with a limited number of clients or opt-in programs. But, firms embracing this approach to the market across their major client base can expect to see results in as little as 14 months from any single change.

Kirkland and Latham have been at it for years—and offer proof of concept. Now, who will be next?

MBR

The 18 BTI Business Development Badasses

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A pitch is as much a mind game as it is a team sport. You go in focusing on your potential client. But there are always competitors. Some of these competitors are worrisome and others are not. Then, you catch wind you are up against a BTI Business Development Badass—the firms law firm marketing leaders single out as the most aggressive and hardest competitors to beat. The BTI Business Development Badass firms take no prisoners—and may make you change your approach. Often for the better.

BTI exclusive research with more than 160 law firm leaders reveal the BTI Business Development Badass law firms for 2019. Please join me in congratulating each of the following firms:

  • Benesch

  • Cooley

  • Covington

  • Cravath, Swaine & Moore

  • Fish & Richardson

  • Gibson Dunn

  • Hogan Lovells

  • Jackson Lewis

  • Jones Day

  • Kirkland & Ellis

  • Latham & Watkins

  • Littler

  • McGuireWoods

  • Morgan Lewis

  • Ogletree Deakins

  • Quinn Emanuel

  • Ropes & Gray

  • Skadden

8 of these firms are repeat performers—able to maintain and even increase their aggressive business development posture. These consecutively badass firms are:

  • Fish & Richardson

  • Jackson Lewis

  • Jones Day

  • Kirkland & Ellis

  • Latham & Watkins

  • Morgan Lewis

  • Quinn Emanuel

  • Skadden

10 of the 18 are longstanding members of the BTI Client Service 30, including:

  • Cooley

  • Gibson Dunn

  • Hogan Lovells

  • Jones Day

  • Latham & Watkins

  • Littler

  • McGuireWoods

  • Morgan Lewis

  • Ropes & Gray

  • Skadden

The Fearsome Foursome; Gibson Dunn, Kirkland, Quinn Emanuel, and Skadden, are also feared in business development.                                              

Business development is on its way to playing a bigger role in strategy, future growth, and culture. We are keeping a close watch on the Business Develop Badasses as the future market unfolds to see how it plays out against innovation and technology.

Next week we will discuss what these firms do differently and why.

MBR

(This research is based on more than 160 independent, individual interviews with leading law firm leadership between September 2018 and January 2019.)

22% of GCs Unloved: Out of the Loop

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I’m the last to know and have to drive this thing to close. I don’t get all the facts, and everyone is waiting for me. It’s ass backwards.” VP and GC, Large Telecom Company.

The attorney able to show this GC how to change the dynamics and drive the results they want will earn a client for life. And not just this one client.

22% of all GCs feel like they are behind the 8 ball. They want to be out in front of issues; helping to get things done, or even things done faster, but these top legal decision makers feel stymied by their own organization. These GCs say they are excluded from relevant communications from upper management until the last minute. And then they’re playing catch up to deliver the results management expects. This is the biggest obstacle to getting what they want, and need, accomplished. These GCs tell us they can cope with being under appreciated; it’s being put in the position of bottleneck causing their personal frustration.

Law firms are in the unique position of being able to bring in an experienced partner, former GC, or a GC who is a friend of the firm, to help your client get out in front. Teaching these GCs how to anticipate issues, stay ahead, and add to the process creates lifelong friendships—and business.

This is only 1 of 5 obstacles GCs face in meeting their goals. The remaining 4 are:

Time

Unlike their stymied colleagues, these corporate counsel have more demands than time. They triage, prioritize, and delegate where they can. Ultimately, these decision makers focus on the top or urgent issues. They are master jugglers and are skilled in keeping many balls in the air.

This is 1 reason clients get so frustrated when they have to chase down outside counsel for budgets, updates, or key pieces of information. It creates even less time.

You can immediately help. Set up scheduled days and times where you will provide updates on matters and work for clients. Outline progress against the original scope and proactively notify clients of any changes before the scheduled update.

Resources

Resources come down to people and budget—and there just aren’t enough to go around. Like time scarcity above, this means prioritization and finding tactics to extend the budget.

Law firms are well served offering up AFAs, alternative staffing, secondments, or an occasional extra hand to add to the resource base.

Litigation

The growing complexity of litigation is stealing 10% of GCs psychic energy. Risk is growing to the point where it is all-consuming. Litigation attracts more and new litigation, and regulators. GCs have to stop and thoughtfully respond. The potential combined financial exposure from litigation is so large it has to be managed down—immediately.

Law firms who want to help their clients can offer strategic counsel and planning for these situations—both in the heat of battle and before with litigation prone clients.

Outside Counsel

A small but significant 4% of GCs say outside counsel is their biggest obstacle to getting things done. These GCs say their law firms are working towards cross objectives, don’t deal with uncertainty, and are being served by attorneys with no apparent leader. They make no progress and some law firms impede it.

Law firms holding their clients back probably don’t realize they are the obstacle—but these are the firms who do not ask for feedback and don’t provide timely updates. More formal and informal communication with clients is the number 1 way to ensure you are not your client’s biggest challenge.

Each client faces different obstacles. Your job is to understand which clients have what obstacles if you want to create a continuing stream of new business. You have many vehicles to ask clients about what holds them back, or BTI can ask for you. Your client’s obstacles are your opportunities. All you have to do is ask, and act.

MBR

(Based on more than 350 in-depth interviews with top legal decision makers conducted between September 2018 and January 2019 conducted by The BTI Consulting Group.) 

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.

MBR

Largest Clients Ramp Up RFPs

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The next RFP is likely to be a big one. RFPs among the largest clients are on the rise. While only 38% of clients plan to issue RFPs through 2019—they are the largest legal spenders. Here’s why this group is moving to RFPs while others silently interview and select their law firms on a less visible basis.

  1. Clients consistently tell BTI they learn one new compelling insight, idea, or suggestion from the process—making the entire, and admittedly, grueling process worth it.

  2. Large clients are experiencing a faster rise in complex matters and increased financial exposure than their smaller spending counterparts.

  3. The number of individuals new to the top legal decision maker role is growing—they want to ensure they are getting the best service and counsel they can.

  4. Clients want law firms who will relish the opportunity to step up to help with the new complexity.

  5. Clients want more consistency from their law firms in terms of client service and levels of aggressiveness—these clients are using law firm pitches as a proxy by asking to meet with partner teams and observing how they do.

  6. Some law firms fall out of favor—often by inaction—RFPs are a politically correct tool to clean house.

  7. Clients always want more from their law firms. When client expectations get ahead of even the high performers, they will start to look around.

Clients plan to issue the most RFPs primarily for litigation, labor, less complex IP and cybersecurity—one of the areas where clients are most eager to learn. The complex work, especially in litigation and M&A, is still awarded with minimal, if any, bidding—and when it is—it’s in quiet and private negotiations with the best performing firms.

Clients Place RFP Winners in the Warm Up Lane

Winning an RFP is the beginning—not the end. Clients add several new firms to their roster and expect to give them medium risk work. Not the big, super complex work just yet. You are now invited to the proving grounds to see if you can you deliver.

But, for existing firms, this is your chance. Firms who get the RFP are always at some degree of risk (unless you wrote the RFP.) Take the RFP process and turn it on its head. Use it to explore goals, assess and manage risk, and treat it like a strategy session, so you can get the highest risk work—and the segment growing fastest.

It’s All in Your Control

You control almost all the reasons clients go to RFP. Here is how you can prevent and/or win the pitch:

  • Be the law firm who delivers the new insights client haven’t heard yet. Remember, this is the number one client benefit of the RFP process. Brainstorm with a group of your partners and ask the partners to brainstorm with clients. This could be the best defense against RFPs.

  • Talk to clients about the changes in the case load. Help clients locate the risks early and often. There are few more powerful tools than talking to clients.

  • Practice, train, and be consistent when you pitch. Clients know only the consistent firms can scale up to solve the big problems.

  • Reread BTI’s Unspoken Criteria Clients Use to Evaluate Your RFP.

We will be discussing clients’ new expectations and needs in our upcoming (and rescheduled) webinar. We will be discussing these issues and much more during our annual webinar BTI Market Outlook and Client Service Review 2019 on January 30, 2019 at noon Eastern Time. Register now as space is filling up fast.

MBR

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.

MBR

12 Top Trends Defining the 2019 Legal Market

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Buckle up. It’s going to be an exciting ride. Clients are spending more money on outside counsel than ever. Top legal decision makers are redefining their approach to hiring and managing their law firms. This translates into direct opportunity.

But you will find the biggest wins by targeting your client’s new needs and hiring plans, focusing on the industries where you can win, and getting there before other law firms. Please use these top trends to your immediate and lasting advantage—and join us for the BTI Market Outlook and Client Service Review 2019 where we will discuss these and much more:

  1. Cybersecurity leads all outside counsel spending increases at 9%

  2. M&A spending closely follows Cybersecurity in planned outside counsel spending increases

  3. The number of clients reporting high-stakes matters more than doubled in the last 18 months

  4. Complexity and uncertainty dominate client thinking

  5. Clients are settling less than half as many cases as 2 years ago—increasing risk and outside counsel spending

  6. Clients are cutting internal budgets to fund increasing use of outside counsel for the 3rd straight year

  7. Top legal decision makers are hiring more new law firms than ever to find the firms who can meet their needs

  8. High tech clients plan to increase spending in 9 major areas

  9. Health care clients plan to increase spending in 7 major practice areas

  10. Pharma plans the 3rd largest outside counsel spending increases of all industries

  11. Clients now look for law firms who can scale into teams quickly to manage cases, which could become large or attract other matters—these teams can come from small, medium, and large firms

  12. Clients are most impressed by law firms using technology to provide core information (i.e., updates, budgets, access to current and historical documents)

Match these trends up against your business plans. These opportunities are here now and finally big enough to drive strategic growth in law firms. We have all been waiting for the market to return to the good old days—this is the closest we have seen in a long time.

Please join us for our annual webinar BTI Market Outlook and Client Service Review 2019 on January 17, 2019 at 12:00 pm ET to discuss these trends and much more. You can also learn about these and more detailed trends and opportunities in BTI’s report BTI Practice Outlook 2019, available immediately.

Best in the market ahead and a happy, healthy new year!

MBR

5 Reasons Clients Love to Call Their Law Firms

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Clients tell us there are 5 times when they truly enjoy calling their outside counsel. These busy legal decision makers have little time for optional phone calls—which makes these 5 especially telling. These calls are:

  1. Review a delivered work product
    Clients inevitably have questions, comments, and changes. Your clients view these calls as essential and productive. Many enjoy intellectual stimulation. These calls are a core part of the work process.

  2. New work
    Congratulations. Your client wants to give you more work. You have superior client service, you deliver on time, and within budget. You understand your client. You won the work without going to RFP. Clients like to make these calls and partners like to receive these. An excellent phone call by any standard.  

  3. Come give us a CLE
    Clients may need to meet a state requirement, improve staff morale and productivity, or see a knowledge gap in their department. They want you to train their staff. A CLE provides more than knowledge. CLEs provide new thinking, promote internal dialogue, make outside counsel seem more available, and show the top legal decision makers actively investing in their people. All good.

  4. Give you feedback
    Contrary to popular belief, clients like to give you feedback. They want you to be better at what you do, no matter how good you already are. Everyone can improve. The clients who take the time to share feedback on your performance are among the best clients. These clients are invested in your success. Another good phone call—especially weighted towards the law firms.  

  5. Checking in
    Clients call their favorite partners to see how they are doing. Clients want to stay in touch and see their advisors succeed. While a good call by any measure—it is also a sign—you are not staying in touch with your client. The best clients and law firm partners know informal communications drive the success of all the other communications.

If you are getting these calls, accept our congratulations—and keep developing what is clearly a strong relationship. If you’re not—here are a few suggestions:

  • Call your client. Share progress and tidbits from your current work. Talk about the good work your associates are doing. List out any new thinking or breakthroughs—even an interesting observation. The important message—bring your client into the process early and often.

  • Update your client on firm events. Any client who treats you as a primary law firm wants to know the firm’s plans. They enjoy knowing their advisors are planning ahead and feel included when you make an effort to tell them. (They feel excluded when they learn about your firm’s strategy from a 3rd party—including the press.)

  • Call and offer your client a CLE. So few clients are proactively offered CLEs you can almost count them on one hand. Law firms who offer up a CLE before clients ask, stand out as the proactive, understanding firm. The law firms who wait for clients to ask are merely responsive.

  • Ask for feedback. Clients want to tell you how you are doing and want you to improve. Ask before clients offer and position yourself as one of the firms who includes self-improvement—and client thinking—in their culture.

  • Stay in touch. When one of the calls clients love to make is to see how you’re doing—they are saying they want to do business with the person and the firm. Make it easy—schedule a time every 2 to 3 weeks to have a short call with your top clients. Share the more interesting parts of your life and ask your client about theirs.

    One top legal officer at mega-sized Tech company once remarked how the most surprising thing the partner from his most used law firms ever did was to call and ask how things were going and what was new in his world. It changed the whole relationship for the better.

You can’t exactly hire yourself for new work—but the law firm partners who take the time to make these calls will receive one of the call clients love to make—give you new business.

MBR

How Clients Hire: Clients Using Attorney Bios in New Ways to Hire

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Clients are using attorney bios as a selection vehicle—taking attorney assignments into their own hands.

Clients are going online, picking the attorneys they want on their matters—and telling law firms exactly who they want. Think of this new phenomenon as a self-service bar for clients. Corporate counsel used to use attorney bios to check out the people law firms proposed or want to use on a matter. No more. Now, the tables are turned.

Clients don’t want no for an answer when they select their attorneys. Few understand why the chosen lawyer behind the bio would not be available for their work. After all, they are a paying client. One top legal decision maker went as far as to call an associate after the partner indicated the selected associate was “too busy” to work on this client’s matter. When asked, the client savvy associate told the client they were never too busy to work on their matters. How many associates have the where-with-all to offer the only correct answer to this client query? Most would say it isn’t their decision or they are working on another matter.

Client Bad Behavior?

Some law firm partners say this is client bad behavior. Clients politely say bunk. They want what they want—when they want it. They are paying the freight.

Client’s new self-selection process is a direct result of law firms ignoring the most basic of client management strategies. These include:

  • Developing a client team with a dedicated group of attorneys meeting client needs—clients served by well-run teams rely on their team to pick their attorneys and don’t feel the need select from the firm roster.

  • Providing a single point of accountability who also acts as an ombudsman to find the right talent for their clients when and where they need it.

  • Staffing from across the firm. Clients selecting their attorneys from your attorney bios ignore offices, departments, and practices. They are unaware of reporting relationships within their law firms. Clients just pick the attorneys they want, where ever they may be.

  • Really knowing your client. We are talking deep, ongoing knowledge where you see new needs coming—and put the right attorneys in front of clients before they go shopping for attorneys on your site. Client feedback is one of the few proven vehicles to get this coveted, forward-looking insight.

  • Providing client-centric bios. Write all your bios through client eyes—focusing what they really look for and how they interpret what you have.

  • Asking clients what they want in their attorneys for different matters. Get ahead of their process and guide them through to the attorneys you recommend.

The law firms with client teams or dedicated client relationship executives rarely see their clients select their own attorneys. Clients will still check out the attorneys on your website and LinkedIn—but more with a mind towards learning instead of hiring.

Finally, value is destroyed when clients are picking their own attorneys. One of the many benefits of working with outside counsel is relying on these law firms to take over staffing responsibilities. The more work clients take on, the less value law firms provide.

Law firms protect client relationships and value by staying ahead of staffing and needs. We recommend enforcing client teams, single accountability, firmwide staffing strategies, and client feedback to ensure you know how to staff up for client needs before they ever ask. Law firms who let clients choose their staff before consulting you will start to be viewed as hotels for attorneys—inviting discounts, discussions of hourly rates, and logistics instead of solving client problems. Premium rates go to the problem solvers who make their clients’ lives easier.

Special thanks to Lisa Gasbarre Black, General Counsel, Catholic Charities, Alfred C. Perry Jr, General Counsel at Westfield Bank, and Ed Blakemore, Assistant General Counsel at Rockwell Automation for inspiring this blog post. I had the honor of moderating a panel with these dynamic individuals at the Practice Development Institute presented by The Legal Marketing Association and The Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association on November 15, 2018.

MBR