Clients to Law Firms: Lean and Mean Legal Teams are Dead

 
quote-2.png
 

About 22 minutes into an in-depth client feedback interview I conducted, this client shared the real Achilles’ heel holding back the relationship. Our client, a mid-sized law firm, was steadily billing this client about $440,000 per month. Based on the feedback above, our client started offering bigger teams and staffing for contingencies. 7 months later, our client is now billing this same client just over $900,000 monthly. 

Lean and mean is dead. At least in any matter with risk or importance. Client thinking is going through a rare transformation—the risk of a legal team who can’t handle an unexpected problem far exceeds the savings of a lean legal team. Client risk and uncertainty are the new drivers in evaluating teams, and almost everything else. Your firm may have THE rock star in a practice—but if clients think you can’t scale up, they’ll look elsewhere.

How will you know if the matter in front of you is one of those matters, or in the case of our client, a continuing stream of matters? Here’s how:

 
Untitled-1.png
 

The move away from lean and mean is catching 62% of law firms off guard. Clients report law firms still propose smaller teams with no thought to contingencies, suggesting these law firms don’t understand what they are getting into. Clients will avoid these firms and unfortunately will still tell these firms it’s because of their rates—the easiest answer in the world to say no to a law firm—so don’t be fooled.

We will be discussing this and more during our upcoming BTI Mid-Year Webinar: 5 New Trends Changing How You Win High-Rate Work on June 19 at Noon Eastern. Please join us.

Clients Rank EY Law in Top 25% of Law Firm Brands

ey-law-blog-header.png

Another first—a milestone for the Big 4 as well as law firms. 694 top legal decision makers rank the EY Law brand number 138 out of the 650 legal providers serving large clients in the US. Deloitte also makes a noteworthy appearance and is ranked in the top 35%. What makes these results even more significant is the rankings are all based on unprompted, open-ended responses from corporate counsel. BTI’s methodology does not probe on the names of specific legal providers and law firms cannot refer clients to be included in this research. Every law (or Big 4) firm earns its ranking on its own brand strength.

This ranking serves as another barometer of the Big 4 firms gaining traction in practicing law. EY Law’s brand performance is driven by the firm’s work with larger organizations—many of whom use EY Law outside the US. These clients don’t see the name, or experience, with EY Law as new.

EY Law is hitting the driving attributes clients use to assess law firms. Corporate counsel recommend the firm to peers and keep EY Law on their short list. These top legal decision makers note EY Law for its continuing innovation, tech savvy, and its efforts to improve the client experience—one of the most influential brand attributes. The only attribute the firm has yet to establish itself is as a bet-the-company firm. 

The Big 4 joining the ranks of best-branded law firms is only one of many changes in brand and client perception of law firms—all of which drive clients’ decisions to hire one law firm over another. You can see the other changes in the 9 key attributes driving law firms brands and hirability here:

Fewer Premium Worthy Law Firms

Clients’ Short Lists Get Longer

Fewer Bet-the-Company Law Firms

Clients See Fewer Movers and Shakers

Clients Say Tech Savvy Harder to Find

More Law Firms Making Changes to Deliver More Value

Clients See a Few Firms as Long-Term Leaders

More Law Firms Earning Client Recommendations

Fewer Firms Improving the Client Experience

 

You can learn more about these insights and detailed changes in your firm’s brand in the newly released BTI Brand Elite 2019: Client Perceptions of the Best-Branded Law Firms, available for purchase now.

 

Fewer Firms Improving the Client Experience

Fewer law firms are showing clients innovation around improving the client experience—top legal decision makers point to 14.6% fewer firms than last year. Clients are changing their expectations and demands as they face increased complexity and uncertainty—making it harder for law firms to understand. Fewer firms can keep up or improve as a result. This makes the top-branded firms even more impressive.

Please join us in congratulating this elite group of firms recognized as client service strategists:

Brand-Elite-2019-Logo.png

Best of the Best

• Hogan Lovells
• Jones Day
• Littler
• McGuireWoods
• Morgan Lewis
• Orrick
• Reed Smith

Leaders

• Arnold & Porter
• BakerHostetler
• Covington
• Davis Polk
• Dechert
• Dentons
• DLA Piper
• Gibson Dunn
• King & Spalding
• McDermott Will & Emery
• Paul, Weiss
• Seyfarth Shaw
• Sidley
• Skadden
• Troutman Sanders
• Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
• Weil

More Law Firms Earning Client Recommendations

Top legal decision makers recommend 293 law firms, 21.6% more law firms for 2019. This upswing is on the heels of a 3-year downtrend. We see 2 driving reasons:

1) A number of law firms are having success with their firmwide client service excellence initiatives—bringing new unprompted recommendations from clients.

2) Clients are using more law firms than last year—and a number of these firms are picking up new recommendations in the early stages of the relationship.

We are talking about GC-to-GC recommendations—the kind taking place in private and frequent conversations – when top legal decision makers share their experiences with different law firms. These unprompted peer-to-peer recommendations are the most powerful—and lead to serious new business.

Please join me in congratulating the firms with the best branding through unprompted client-to-client recommendations:

Picture2c.png
 
Brand-Elite-2019-Logo.png
Picture2a.png




Clients See a Few Firms as Long-Term Leaders

Clients keep a distant eye on law firm mergers—and have bias for firms who will emerge the winners—especially for big, and potentially long, litigation or regulatory work. Every client knows a merged firm can become conflicted—and this means work for the client. Top legal decision makers name 28 fewer law firms to the list than last year as survivors—firms who will emerge as the leaders over the long term. Note how the Best of the Best also match the firms law firm leaders believe will emerge as long-term leaders.

Please join us in congratulating the brands clients say will be among the last firm standing:

Best of the Best

• Baker McKenzie
• DLA Piper
• Jones Day
• Latham & Watkins
• Skadden

Leaders

• Cooley
• Cravath, Swaine & Moore
• Dentons
• Gibson Dunn
• Greenberg Traurig
• Hogan Lovells
• Kirkland & Ellis
• Mayer Brown
• Morgan Lewis
• Norton Rose Fulbright
• Sidley
• Sullivan & Cromwell
• Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
• White & Case

More Law Firms Making Changes to Deliver More Value

Clients reported 20.2% more law firms this year than last in making changes to the way they deliver services to add more value. This translates to an additional 50 more firms. These firms are simplifying work processes, using non-lawyers, non-partner track lawyers and a host of other tools, as we outline in BTI Legal Innovation and Technology Outlook.

Please join us in congratulating these value-adding firms:

Best of the Best

• Gibson Dunn
• Jones Day
• Latham & Watkins
• Littler
• Skadden

Leaders

• Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
• BakerHostetler
• Cooley
• Dentons
• DLA Piper
• Eversheds Sutherland
• Greenberg Traurig
• Hogan Lovells
• Hunton Andrews Kurth
• Jackson Lewis
• Morgan Lewis
• Reed Smith
• Sidley
• Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

Clients Say Tech Savvy Harder to Find

Law firms able to earn the tech-savvy distinction dropped 9.2% from last year, with 109 firms making the cut this year. This down from 200 law firms in 2017. Clients tell us, like the Movers & Shakers, law firms are looking the same—making it harder than prior years to leave an imprint on clients. 

Please congratulate these tech-savvy firms:

Best of the Best

• Dentons
• DLA Piper
• Latham & Watkins
• Ogletree Deakins
• Seyfarth Shaw

Leaders

• Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
• Baker McKenzie
• Cooley
• Hogan Lovells
• Jones Day
• King & Spalding
• Littler
• Morgan Lewis
• Orrick
• Skadden
• White & Case

Learn how clients spot tech-savvy firms in the new BTI Brand Elite 2019: Client Perceptions of the Best Branded Law Firms.

Clients See Fewer Movers and Shakers

After a solid 6 years of increase, clients see fewer law firms moving and shaking. Clients tell us more law are doing the same new things—making it less innovative. Overall, the number of law firms clients see as movers and shakers dropped 4.2%.

Clients named 3 fewer firms to the Best of the Best list and 9 fewer in total. This innovative attribute measures those adding value by delivering services or behaviors others do not.

Please join us in congratulating this year’s innovative movers and shakers:

 
 
Picture14.png

Learn what it takes to be a mover & shaker in the new BTI Brand Elite 2019: Client Perceptions of the Best Branded Law Firms.

Fewer Bet-the-Company Law Firms

The number of law firms clients think can handle bet-the-company matters fell by 16.1%, down to just 94 firms this year. As the complexity and stakes clients face grow higher, clients are becoming more selective and are dramatically raising their expectations.

Join us in congratulating the following firms with the best bet-the-company brands:

Picture11.png
Brand-Elite-2019-Logo.png
 
Picture12.png
 

Learn how to gain the coveted bet-the-company status in the new BTI Brand Elite 2019: Client Perceptions of the Best Branded Law Firms.

Clients' Short Lists Get Longer

Brand-Elite-2019-Logo.png

Everyone wants to be on the short list. And clients are adding to them, lengthening their lists by 6.4% this year over last. The short list is the first stop before clients make a hiring decision. The process starts with the firms on the short list and moves on from there.

The law firms enjoying a strong position on clients’ short lists in the just-released BTI Brand Elite 2019 are:

 
Picture9.png
Picture10.png

Learn how to earn and keep a spot on clients’ short lists, in the new BTI Brand Elite 2019: Client Perceptions of the Best Branded Law Firms.

Fewer Premium Worthy Law Firms

Clients are facing more complexity and uncertainty than ever before—the Economic Policy Uncertainty Index is at an all-time high. Clients gladly pay premiums for the firms who are comfortable with uncertainty and can simplify the complex. The number of firms meeting this threshold dropped substantially—a steep 22.4% from last year.

Law firms enjoying a coveted spot on the premium worthy list in the just-released BTI Brand Elite 2019 are:

 

Best of the Best

Brand-Elite-2019-Logo.png

• Davis Polk
• Gibson Dunn
• Kirkland & Ellis
• Latham & Watkins
• Morgan Lewis
• Paul, Weiss
• Skadden
• Sullivan & Cromwell

Leaders

• Arnold & Porter
• Baker McKenzie
• Cooley
• Cravath, Swaine & Moore
• Debevoise & Plimpton
• Dechert
• DLA Piper
• Fried Frank
• Hogan Lovells
• Jones Day
• King & Spalding
• Mayer Brown
• McDermott Will & Emery
• Pillsbury
• Sidley
• Weil
• White & Case
• WilmerHale

 

Learn how to earn premium worthy status, and keep it, in the new BTI Brand Elite 2019: Client Perceptions of the Best Branded Law Firms.

Skadden Reclaims Best Brand: 18 Firms Move Up in New BTI Brand Elite

Skadden reclaims its position as the best-branded law firm. Benefiting directly from the increased complexity and uncertainty clients face—clients rank Skadden as the firm to turn to in bet-the-company situations more than any other firm.

Fully 18 firms in the 28 Brand Elite firm improved their brand over last year. These firms include:

 

• Skadden
• Morgan Lewis
• Gibson Dunn
• Kirkland & Ellis
• Reed Smith
• Hogan Lovells
• McGuireWoods
• Davis Polk
• Seyfarth Shaw

• Orrick
• Paul, Weiss
• King & Spalding
• Covington
• Mayer Brown
• Norton Rose Fulbright
• Squire Patton Boggs
• Ropes & Gray
• Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan

 

Quinn Emanuel makes its debut on the BTI Brand Elite—the 28 law firms with the best brands. Quinn is on an ever-growing number of clients’ short lists and has improved its client experience to the point where the firm’s brand is among the elite—and attracts inbound referrals.

A total of 6 law firms return to the BTI Brand Elite:

 

• Seyfarth Shaw
• Orrick
• King & Spalding
• Covington
• Squire Patton Boggs
• Ropes & Gray

Only 7 law firms earn a place on the BTI Brand Elite for all 8 years we have ranked law firm brands. Please join me in congratulating:

 

• Skadden
• Jones Day
• Morgan Lewis
• Hogan Lovells
• Sidley
• Baker McKenzie
• Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

You can learn about the detailed changes in your firm’s brand and compare it to competitive law firms with your copy of BTI Brand Elite 2019: Client Perceptions of the Best-Branded Law Firms, available now.

BTI conducted more than 694 interviews with top legal decision makers to single out the law firms with the best and strongest brands. Each of the CLOs provided detailed answers and explanations—and have deep opinions about law firm brands.

12 Tactics Branding Your Law Firm and Boosting Hirability

hirability_header.png

A better brand means better hirability—a strong brand makes you much more attractive to clients.

BTI’s brand new research with corporate counsel shows 28% of law firms are strengthening their brand in the eyes of clients. Of these, more than half improved their brand to be ranked at all-time highs—making them the firms to beat to win new work.

36.8% of law firms suffered a drop in their brand, as ranked by clients. Top legal decision-makers see the brands of these firms as having less impact on decision making—so getting hired is harder. A weaker brand means you do more work to get access to new business.

The most common way law firms dilute their brands is inaction; particularly in the face of more aggressive firms actively building the strength of their brand in the market.

Only a few actions truly impact the strength of a law firm’s brand in the eyes of clients—these are broken into 3 categories:

  1. Direct Experience

  2. Transferred Experience

  3. Indirect Experience

Direct Experience

Direct experience will always be the strongest driver in leaving your brand imprint on a client. This includes:

  • Delivering legal services

  • Well-designed websites

  • Client service initiatives; including client feedback, client teams, and client service standards

  • Your pitches

  • Watching your firm from the other side of a matter

  • Attorney bios

  • Interactive thought leadership (such as custom CLEs, webinars, and training sessions)

  • Value-driven digital conversations (typically social media and blog interactions where clients learn new approaches to better manage risk)

  • Memorable encounters where clients and prospects quickly see the direct impact you can have on their business; typically, these occur by active participation in:

    • Trade Associations

    • Industry networking opportunities

Transferred Experience

Transferred experience is the 2nd most powerful way your brand is built up in clients’ minds. This type of strength is built through:

  • Referrals and recommendations

  • Client-to-client conversations about law firms

  • Client comments about law firms in:

    • Articles

    • Social Media Posts

Indirect Experience

Indirect experience ranks 3rd in the small set of activities able to leave a positive imprint on clients, including:

  • Passive, but relevant, thought leadership, such as:

    • White papers

    • Speeches at industry events

    • Quotes in publications

    • Email newsletters—with personal commentary on the relevance to the client

    • Non-custom seminars and events

    • Generic websites

On the other hand, there are a number of activities proven to have a limited impact on clients and prospects—and can sometimes even confuse and dilute brands. These low-impact experiences include:

  • Traditional advertising

  • Brochures

  • Single sponsorships

  • Entertainment

The law firms with improved and better brands are going out of their way to drive more direct experience with clients and prospects. Look for more on exactly how they are doing this in a future post.

You can learn exactly where your law firm stands, including a history and comparison to 8 law firms of your choice, in the about-to-be-released BTI Brand Elite: Client Perceptions of the Best Branded Law Firms 2019.

MBR

Law Firms Embrace Funky Billing, Go Rogue

Funky Billing_blog header.png

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:

 
blog-quotes.png
 

And then consider:

 
blog-2.png
 

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