The 89 Law Firms GCs Recommend Most

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Client recommendations sit at the epicenter of law firm hiring and recurring business. Virtually every top legal decision maker looks to peer recommendations when first thinking of hiring a new law firm. Fully 57% of these decision makers will hire the first firm recommended—even if this firm is recommended just once—hence the power of the unprompted recommendation.

The peer-to-peer recommendation is serious business. Every recommendation is a personal statement about the type of provider—the commitment, service, quality, and demeanor—you are willing to entrust to a peer—from whom they would expect the same.

Superior client service is consistently the leading driver of law firm recommendations by General Counsel. Superior service accounts for nearly 5 times more recommendations (70%) than any other single factor.

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Overall, top legal decision makers recommend 89 law firms. They are:

The 10 Law Firms Standout as Receiving the Most Recommendations

27 Law Firms Standout as Highly Recommended

You can see all the law firms clients recommend and why in The BTI Most Recommended Law Firms 2019: The Firms Top Legal Decision Makers Recommend Above All Others. You can download a copy of the report here.

Congratulations to these high-performing firms.

MBR

Holy S*#T – BTI Just Turned 30, It’s a Brand New World

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When does a company consider itself founded? When you leave your day job and start working full time on your new gig? When you ask your attorney to file the papers? When your attorney actually files the papers? When you pay the fee and get the stamped paper saying your business is a corporation? I have been told the answer may just be situation-specific.

Well, in this case, BTI completed all these things in the second week of August 1989. The papers were stamped August 11, 1989. This means The BTI Consulting Group is officially 30 years old – no matter how you twist it. In full disclosure, the first iteration of BTI was BTI Management Inc., who transferred the assets and became The BTI Consulting Group 2 years later.

But not to worry – despite 30 being the age where some people start slowing down – I feel like we are just getting started again. Look for new research, new offerings, new branding, and a new website – and a host of adventures to get things rolling. It is just as exciting today as it was 30 years ago.

We have more than 30,000 client interviews under our belt, more than 300 projects, and count the best run professional services firms in the world as our clients. We have learned a lot and plan on sharing this over the upcoming year – keep a watch out for a seasoned and well-informed perspective you haven’t seen before.

My personal thanks to all of our clients, friends, supporters and soon to be clients for your support and enthusiasm. It is truly an honor to work with you. A special thanks goes to Mrs. Mad Clientist.

We welcome your ideas on adding new things to our repertoire as we begin our journey into year 31 and beyond.  

 MBR

The 26 Law Firms with the Best Client Relationships

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Client relationships are the lifeblood of any law firm. Not just clients—but client relationships. Anyone can pick up cases—but building an ongoing relationship with robust energy and a continuing stream of work is hard. Very hard—but more than worth the effort.

The law firms with the best client relationships enjoy better performance than all others. This includes large firms, mid-sized firms, and small firms. Show me a firm with strong relationships (not matters but recurring relationships) and I will show you a high-performing firm.

BTI probed more than 650 top legal decision makers about all aspects of their law firm relationships. This enables us to dissect the strength and potential of each client relationship. No law firms submit clients and we don’t suggest names. The law firms and nature of the relationships all come solely from clients.

Latham & Watkins enjoys the strongest relationships of all law firms. This helps explain their meteoric growth and profits. The firm has been working at it for more than 10 years and has always been ever so close to the top—now the crown of best rests with Latham.

Jones Day, Skadden, Davis Polk, and Gibson Dunn round out the top 5. Mid-size firm Kramer Levin comes in at number 10—proving you don’t have to be a mega firm to have the best relationships. (Willkie with 700 attorneys comes in at number 28 to further bolster this argument.)

Some law firms have really upped their game in the 2 years since our last report, as 15 of the 26 firms in the BTI Power Elite are new this year. Please join me in congratulating the following 26 firms for developing the best client relationships of all law firms:

1.     Latham & Watkins

2.    Jones Day

3.    Skadden

4.    Davis Polk

5.    Gibson Dunn

6.    Morgan Lewis

7.     Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld

8.    Arnold & Porter

9.    Jenner & Block

10.   Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel

11.   Cooley

12.   Pillsbury

13.   Paul, Weiss

14.   Kirkland & Ellis

15.   McGuireWoods

16.   DLA Piper

17.   Covington

18.   Dechert

19.   Sullivan & Cromwell

20.  Hunton Andrews Kurth

21.   White & Case

22.   Dentons

23.   Reed Smith

24.   Weil

25.   Morrison & Foerster

26.   Irell & Manella

The BTI Power Elite have more of the strongest relationships than any other firms. But they too have to look behind them.

Clients identify 34 law firms showing substantial underlying strength—BTI Power Players—who are right behind the BTI Power Elite. The Celebrities are the 9 firms garnering exceptional mindshare and clients are inclined to use them for substantive work. We found 27 trusted law firms (The Special Forces) are poised for special situations. These firms have more core relationships than 70% of all other law firms—but earn fewer unprompted recommendations—clearly an opportunity to boost client service and earn more business.

We found 188 law firms with the opportunity to truly leverage their client relationships into something bigger and stronger. The Underdogs are fighting all the firms above—but everyone likes a comeback story—so clients are not only likely to notice but are likely to embrace the new performance you can bring.

As we discussed last week, the law firms who know their position outperform those who don’t. Your standing with clients defines your strategy, the level of investment, and the effort required for success. You can map yours now in the just released report BTI Power Rankings 2016: The Client Relationship Scorecard—including a ranking in each of the 18 industries.

You can assess the strength of your firm’s client relationships through BTI’s in-depth client feedback—and use it to improve client strength and revenue.

MBR

Based on more than 650 in-depth interviews with top legal decision makers conducted between March 2017 and April 2018.

Clients See 8 Types of Law Firms in Today’s Market

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Clients use anywhere between 12 and 41 law firms, on average. Small and mid-sized clients use 12 or so. Some large clients easily go over 100 or more. Of these law firms clients use, only 10 are in the sweet spot—considered core by legal decision makers. This number drops to 5 at smaller clients. And even among these core providers, distinct differences can tell you whether or not your client relationship will stand the test of time.

First, let’s look at how GCs manage their outside law firms:

The Primary Providers

Clients turn to these law firms first when a new legal need arises. Clients consider these firms their most valued and trusted providers—and as a reward, these firms split the lion’s share of a client’s outside counsel spending. Clients rely on between 2 to 4 primary providers in total. Each wants to be the top primary provider. And with good reason: this is where the best, most complex, and highest-rate work lives.

Secondary Law Firms

While not in the primary seat, these firms still boast strong client relationships and receive a significant portion of external legal spending. In fact, the primary and secondary law firms combined account for 80% of a client’s total spending with law firms.

The secondary firm can be a great opportunity or potential risk. You can be auditioning for a primary spot – or be a fallen primary.

The Rest of the Law Firms

The last (and largest) group of law firms on a client’s roster are the firms where the relationships are the weakest. These are the firms handling specialized work (i.e., in highly specialized areas of expertise or geography-driven cases) with few points of leverage.

Success demands you understand the strength of your client relationships—especially the relationships you have with each of your most important clients. Your position dictates the best strategy for building stronger and better client relationships.

The combination of your positioning as a primary or secondary firm, and your client’s investment in your firm, drives your strength. BTI asked more than 650 top legal decision makers about where each of their law firms stands and who they recommend to peers—this tells you exactly where you stand. The analysis reveals 8 categories of law firms. These include:

BTI Power Elite

The 28 firms enjoy the absolute strongest client relationships; positioned for long-term organic growth and substantial inbound lead flow. These firms have the most primary relationships and are the first unprompted firms to be recommended to a peer. The BTI Power Elite have the best of both worlds—and these 26 firms have more of these relationships than any other firm—offering organic growth and inbound leads.

BTI Power Players

These 34 firms have a large number of strong client relationships—but not quite as many as the BTI Power Elite. The BTI Power Players are within shouting distance of the BTI Power Elite—with the potential to unseat Power Elite firms to gain more market share and clients.

Contenders

Current relationships are strong and have the underlying strength to be much stronger. These 45 law firms can harness the skills around their strong client relationships and jumpstart growth to develop a larger number of the strongest client relationships.

Celebrities

The Celebrities are the firms clients love to recommend; their recommendation rates far outpace the number of core relationships these firm enjoy. These 9 firms garner exceptional mindshare and clients are inclined to use them for substantive work. Their challenge is to develop these clients into more business to earn the strongest relationships. You can see by the small number of firms in this group— this is a unique spot from which to grow.

Special Forces

These are the 27 trusted providers clients call in for special situations; these firms have more core relationships than 70% of all other law firms—but earn fewer unprompted recommendations. Clients see their role as specialized and targeted—the Special Forces law firms have the opportunity to build on this trust to broaden the relationship. But, like the Celebrities—success demands a strong dose of business development and gaining the coveted unprompted recommendation. These firms have more strength than most.

The SWAT Team

The team to call to get the job done; these firms have functionally driven core relationships, but an absence of unprompted recommendations. Like the Special Forces, clients know they can rely on these 9 firms—their challenge is to build these into ongoing relationships through a combination of client service and business development—often delivered hand-in-hand.

Underdogs

These 186 firms are the firms clients love to root for; they have the potential to rise through the ranks if they can increase their share of core relationships. Success calls for serious and systematic business development initiatives – this would include BD training for client-savvy partners, client service training for all other partners, and a healthy dose of client feedback to detail exactly where to improve performance, spot opportunity, and better bond with clients.

Everyone Else

These firms are missing top legal decision makers’ radars when it comes to meaningful client relationships. They may be doing work but are in more of a functional or task-driven role. This can be a bit deceptive because a task at a large company can generate substantial fees—but they have a muted future. These firms can identify themselves as they will have high client turnover, high business development costs, and lower realization. The firms can start on the path to a stronger, more enduring relationship by targeting their best clients, getting feedback, embracing client service, and putting business development out front as a top priority—as the chances of new complex work finding its way to a firm in this group are low—even through RFPs.

Outperform Everyone Else

Firms who know the strength of their client relationships outperform everyone else. These knowing firms are the only ones who pinpoint the client development strategy best suited to their clients—and can drive it forward using the right skills at the right time. Everyone else has to guess.

You can assess the strength of your firm’s client relationships through BTI’s in-depth client feedback—and use it to improve client strength and revenue.

You can also see where you stand in the BTI Power Rankings 2019: The Client Relationship Scorecard—to be released August 1, 2019.

MBR

Based on more than 650 in-depth interviews with top legal decision makers conducted between March 2017 and April 2018.

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