Clients are becoming much more skilled in evaluating law firms. They are on the lookout for clues as to what they will get once they hire a firm. Top legal decision makers see so many pitches and presentations they have now developed a clear set of criteria—some of which they share—and some not.
Lack of sharing is neither a trick nor negligence—its client preferences which have become ingrained in their thinking. Clients think about some especially important requirements so often they believe the proposing firms know what these unspoken requirements are.
Other unstated criteria are not yet fully developed but clients know them when they see them—these are the most dangerous—because clients still have an expectation you will meet these unstated criteria.
Our continuing in-depth interviews with top legal decision makers and influencers reveal the following unstated criteria law firms are expected to meet:
- Talk about client working styles and preference. Law firms are asking clients about their working styles especially around communication, managing to tight timelines, and the types of outreach clients find helpful. One top legal officer of a global consumer products company said, “These questions show they know there may be moments of urgency and plan for it. These firms have been there. I think it’s great they ask what it’s like to work with us—it’s a gutsy question.”
- Asking clients about their experiences with AFAs. Even though clients report most law firms are still AFA averse—they expect you to not only be conversant in AFAs—but they want you to lead the discussion. AFA-savvy law firms are asking clients about their experiences with AFAs and making suggestions to help their potential client gain more value.
- Willingness to go off script. Clients want advisors and are bringing up current problems and issues to see how law firms respond. Clients look for firms who share opinions, ideas, and discussion—and avoid the firms who hesitate, or worse, decline. “If they can’t speak about something I think is in their wheelhouse, I get more than a little unnerved,” says a top legal executive at a very large bank.
- Online dashboards to manage budgets, progress, and store documents. These add so much value to clients, as one GC puts it, “The firms without a dashboard get put at the bottom of the pile.”
The winning law firms prepare and train for each of these unannounced criteria. They practice the pitch, list out the questions they might be asked, and go in knowing they’ll get unexpected questions. And, the winning firms are already thinking about what clients may be adding to the unspoken criteria list moving forward.